Western Diplomats Rally Around Lebanese Prime Minister
By: Marlene Khalife Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
Western and European countries received the news of the assassination of Lebanon's internal intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan with “great shock.” The phrase was used by several foreign diplomats in Lebanon, who described the crime as “a terrorist attack” in every sense of the word.
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Western ambassadors are rallying around the current Lebanese government and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who offered his resignation over the weekend in the wake of protests stemming from Friday's assassination of Lebanon’s intelligence chief. Marlene Khalife reports that the situation in Syria has made Western diplomats especially wary of a power vacuum in Lebanon.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Western Countries Stand by Mikati’s Government to Avoid Power Vacuum
Author: Marlene Khalife
First Published: October 22, 2012
Posted on: October 22 2012
Translated by: Sahar Ghoussoub
Categories : Lebanon
Nevertheless, this attack did not throw the government off balance. It did not push the government to change the political plan it has laid for Lebanon since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, 18 months ago. The state’s political plan is based on two goals: preserving stability and avoiding a power vacuum.
During the past two days, the executive branch of the Lebanese state, including President Michel Suleiman, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, witnessed intense diplomatic activity.
The ambassadors of France, Britain and the European Union, along with the foreign ministers of these countries, unanimously agreed on the need to be prudent and avoid a power vacuum. Furthermore, the United States Ambassador to Lebanon, Maura Connelly, who interrupted her trip to the U.S. to return to Lebanon following the assassination, has taken the same stance.
She opposes a power vacuum and “is supporting Prime Minister Mikati and his government, with the consent of President Suleiman, who does not have any intention to change the government,” a well-informed Western source told As-Safir.
Between 2005 and 2012
There is a major difference between these states’ positions following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 — when they rushed to support the Cedar Revolution’s demand to overthrow the government of Omar Karami — and their current stance in firmly supporting the government of Mikati.
Diplomats are not hiding their views on this. According to a Western diplomat residing in Beirut, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “Today’s context is quite different from 2005. Today, we are witnessing total chaos in Syria and a decline in the Syrian regime’s strength and therefore its influence on Lebanon. We believe that it is not useful to focus on the perpetrator of this terrorist act that killed Maj. Gen. Hassan. However, if it turned out that Syria was involved in this crime, this suggests that the Syrian regime is starting to run out of options. This is also further proof that it is hitting rock bottom and is willing to murder whoever gets in its way and take its revenge on its opponents. However, this puts Lebanon at greater risk. Thus, we must focus on the need to preserve the stability of this country. We must also focus on the Syrian developments, which must be addressed separately. What matters in Lebanon is to shun the impact of the Syrian crisis, and not be dragged towards violent incidents at the domestic level. This is where we interfere. Our job is to make sure that the situation in Lebanon will not escalate.”
The Western diplomat added: “When we contacted Lebanon’s two major camps — the March 14 and March 8 movements — there has been unanimous consensus concerning the need to consolidate the Lebanese police forces and the Internal Security Forces (ISF). All parties agreed that the intelligence services ought to investigate Hassan’s assassination.
“Western countries once again have condemned the use of violence in Lebanon. They have called for calm. We believe that the response to such a terrorist act should have been different. It should have been more ordered and disciplined. I am talking about the March 14 camp here,” the diplomat added.
He also confirmed his “government’s full support for the Lebanese government, in general, and for Prime Minister Mikati, in particular, as we do not want a power vacuum.
“This stance is adopted by Western countries and is supported by President Suleiman. However, the pertinent question remains: How will we implement the decision to preserve the government, so as to maintain Lebanon’s stability, and of securing political understanding among the Lebanese?” he said.
Regarding the March 14 camp’s demands that Mikati should resign, the Western diplomat said: “Not all parties in the March 14 camp support the government’s overthrow, as it is uncertain whether March 14 will take the reins of power or not. The most important thing today is to avoid the use of violence, and not to be dragged into reactions adopted by those who seek to deprive Lebanon of its stability.”
A European diplomat, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, stressed that the European countries are concerned that Lebanon is likely to be dragged into a power vacuum, and that the Syrian crisis could spill over into the country.
European countries fear that the diplomatic dam that was built to protect Lebanon from the raging Syrian crisis might collapse.
Although the situation seems “foggy,” the European stance remains the same. The diplomat pointed out that Europeans “fear that Lebanon will slip into an unstable security situation. They have full confidence in Prime Minister Mikati, who is capable of keeping an iron grip on the situation. It might be easy to find an influential Lebanese Sunni figure, but it is not simple to find a Sunni statesman who is cable of bringing the entire country together, occupying the center ground among all parties, and keeping Lebanon far-removed from the Syrian crisis. Ever since he took office, Mikati proved his skill and managed to maintain Lebanon’s stability.
“Some might believe that a government of national unity is a better option than the current one. However, such a government is currently not available,” he added.
“However, in his statement following the cabinet meeting on Saturday [Oct. 21], the prime minister did not appear to have confidence in himself nor in his government. He mischose his statements, especially when he said that his government will fall sooner or later. He seemed unsure of his role. It would have been better if he had had a clear initiative, since he serves as the highest-ranking government official. Therefore, he should not sound unsure of the ability of the current government. Perhaps, it would have been better if Mikati had requested that the parliament renew its confidence in him.”
Moreover, the diplomat criticized “some political parties who have rushed to make blind accusations without any proof or evidence.” He said that “should the assumption that the Syrian regime is behind the assassination turn out to be true, [accusations cannot be made against one specific Lebanese political party] as Syria has many proxies in Lebanon.”
“All Lebanese leaders ought to be present in the country during this critical phase, most importantly former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who should return to Lebanon, even if he has to remain in his house at all times, to preserve his security,” he added.
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