The Lebanese have many answers, most notably is that the political and security equation is stable. But the fears are rising. Some say that the countdown has started for the end of the “magic formula” that led to the government’s birth and its concomitant achievements, especially in security.
Information from both Tehran and Washington suggests that there is a will to keep Lebanon neutral in the big regional conflict in Syria and Iraq. But how the situation will evolve in coming weeks and months remains a mystery. because it is linked with political and field developments which are open to various possibilities, especially in Iraq.
The Iranians are feeling what Hezbollah felt on May 5, 2008. Suddenly, and without any introductions, ISIS became a partner on the ground with the Iraqi central authority by taking control of Iraq’s second largest province, which links Iraq to Syria. Overnight, Baghdad came in contact with the most seasoned al-Qaeda group in the region. The invasions have not stopped and are threatening new areas.
How will Iranians respond in defense of their primary Iraqi ally, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki?
All messages received by Tehran from Washington as well as from Western and regional capitals centered on a single point: to pre-empt any military or security option by starting a political track leading to the formation of an Iraqi national unity government, or, in short, politically sacrificing Maliki.
As always, the Iranians answered in their own way: “The peoples of the region should decide their own destinies and no one should decide it for them.” That applies to Iraq, which just held elections, as well as to Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, and … Syria.
What the Iranians didn’t declare was their categorical decision not to abandon Maliki. Kuwait’s emir, who recently visited Tehran, heard this from Iran’s highest political references, which are closely following the situation in Iraq in all its details.
To those calling for a re-evaluation of the political process in Iraq, Tehran responded: There are many Iranian observations on what happened, and political give-and-take is possible, but only after militarily defeating the ISIS phenomenon.
Those who ask Tehran immediately realize that concessions are out of the question in light of the open-ended crisis. But that doesn’t mean that Iran will get its army or volunteers involved under any reason, including “protecting religious shrines,” of which many are on Iraqi territory. Iranian “angels” have been in Iraq since the victory of the Iranian revolution 35 years ago and have benefited from the many negative lessons, most notably in some neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Gulf position
The Iranians are very interested in the Gulf position, especially Saudi Arabia’s. The Saudi position indirectly implicated the kingdom in ISIS’s actions in Iraq.
That Saudi Arabia would hold Maliki responsible for what happened was expected. There were errors in how the political process was managed, and there were betrayals and corruption. Most seriously, the Baath structure proved that it still influences parts of the new Iraqi army. But does that justify remaining blind to terrorism?
In this sense, the prevailing impression in several regional and Western capitals is that the Arabian Gulf is dealing with the Iraq issue with some sort of political myopia. Emotions are causing some capitals to take actions without calculating their long-term consequences. It is true that Iraq is a neighboring country to Iran. But what’s preventing ISIS from threatening the Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, in the coming months?
A quick reading of the situation suggests that the Saudi-Iranian dialogue has become more complicated. What happened in Iraq is not conducive to reopening diplomatic channels between the two countries. There will be no initiatives by Tehran, as happened after the election of Sheikh Hassan Rouhani. This time, the ball is in the Saudis’ court. If they show a desire for dialogue, the reply will be positive, but will not go beyond protocol at first.
What’s more, the Gulf states have tried to disrupt the Iranian-Western negotiations. They asked the Americans to put them in the atmosphere of the nuclear negotiations in all its stages. “When the time comes for signing the final agreement, we would like you to hold off till the resolution of some outstanding issues between us and the Iranians in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” the Gulf states told the Americans.
The Americans’ answer was cool. In the recent US-Saudi summit in Riyadh, the Americans agreed to keep them informed them about the path of the negotiations. But the right to control the path of the signing is a different matter.
Of course, the Americans wanted to capture the moment politically in light of Iraqi insistence on implementing the defense treaty between the two countries. In Vienna, they asked the Iranians to informally discuss the Iraq issue from outside the agenda. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif repeated his “historical answer” in response to Washington’s request to discuss all the files at once: When we are done with the nuclear file (in mid-July at the latest), we will turn to the rest of the files. … And of course the priority is the Iraqi file.
The Americans pre-empted the expected Iranian answer. The files of Lebanon, Iraq and Syria at the US State Department have almost become a single file.
As they await sitting on the negotiating table for major regional files, each side is trying to reserve a seat. This rule applies to the axis spanning Moscow to Haret Hreik passing through Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus. The opposing axis has decided to attack in Iraq. The answer was quick: containment then containment. Maliki is betting on the time factor. First, mobilizing the Shiites; second, finding an effective Sunni partner; then, militarily striking ISIS and its supporting environment; then. moving on to the political process by forming a national unity government.
In Syria, the exchange of messages between the regime and some opposition components has not stopped. That intersects with field information from Kassab to Qalamun to Zabadani and the last “security islands” along the border between Lebanon and Syria.
Lebanon’s battle against terrorism
So far, the Lebanese political givens seem rational by all parties. The political decision was clear from the first moment of the Iraq events with the participation of the Lebanese military and security services in the fight against terrorism. Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnuq signaled something to that effect. So have the actions of the Lebanese army in the border area between Mashari al-Qaa and the uninhabited areas of Arsal. The army’s actions were appreciated by regional and world capitals.
The equation of confronting terrorism in Lebanon doesn’t preclude asking questions such as how to activate the role of the constitutional institutions. Otherwise, who would politically cover the military and security forces in light of the inability to call for a cabinet meeting, the continuation of the presidential vacuum for the 26th day, and the continued closure of parliament under the pretext of respecting the presidential post or to not pass the ranks and salaries scale?
This comprehensive national paralysis at all institutions may harm all the security steps. There are already signs to that effect. In Sidon, the situation in Ain al-Hilweh camp required a series of meetings sponsored by the Lebanese security services to prevent an accidental explosion. In Tripoli, there has been unusual movements by some of the most prominent al-Qaeda figures. In Akkar, two al-Qaeda figures made an appearance along with a number of “sleeper cells.” We should also not forget that the risk of car bombs is back in light of the “revival” of some pro-ISIS environments in Lebanon.
What happened in Iraq requires the Lebanese to review how to solidify the stability equation. That starts by agreeing on a presidential candidate who would put Lebanon on track to confront the creeping terrorism by forming a national unity government that would be a continuation of the current government, then by putting the country on the road to parliamentary elections — but not according to the sectarian 1960 electoral law, whose job has become consecrating Lebanon as a “country of separation” between the conflicting regional powers, whereby if the region was fine, Lebanon would be stable, and if the “brothers and neighbors” clash, then Lebanon would suffer a shock that would push it to the brink of civil war.
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