Lebanon has changed hands once more in the ongoing game of regional politics, with Saudi Arabia taking over the country’s wardship from Turkey and Qatar. Some had hoped that the arrival of Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan would lead to breakthroughs between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, but the Saudis seem satisfied to let Lebanon twist in the wind until a clear way forward on Syria emerges – or until Lebanon implodes, forcing an emergency reconciliation.
Saudi-Iranian efforts to find a middle ground have so far failed, as the security situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt continues to deteriorate.
In Lebanon, sources say the formation of the new government has been pushed to next year at the earliest, as the eyes of all relevant regional powers are currently on Syria.
Political sources revealed to The Daily Star that during their recent five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, the son of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt,Taymour, and PSP official Wael Abu Faour – minister of social affairs in the caretaker government – failed to meet with a single Saudi official.
The sources explained that Saudi officials ignored the visit because in their view, Jumblatt has refused to abide by Saudi Arabia’s decision regarding the formation of a new government, and continues to agitate for a national unity government that includes Hezbollah.
Riyadh has rejected the idea of Hezbollah having a place in the next Cabinet due to its involvement in the Syrian crisis.
The sources said the government’s formation has been suspended indefinitely as far as the Saudis are concerned, adding that only a major security crisis could accelerate the creation of a Cabinet under Prime Minister-designate Tamman Salam. Thus, any progress on the political front will depend on the precarious security situation on the ground.
It is in this context that a massive car bomb exploded in the southern suburb of Ruwaiss last week, killing at least 27 people and wounding scores more.
According to security sources, all evidence collected so far indicates that the bombing was the work of foreign groups and was intended to ignite sectarian tensions in Lebanon, mirroring a regional slide toward sectarianism which is affecting Iraq, Syria and now Egypt. The sources emphasized that internal division, particularly along religious lines, only benefits Israel.
These external groups are reportedly working with domestic Lebanese parties who work on their behalf, which is why officials and politicians have linked the explosion in Ruwaiss to the convergence of “Israeli” and “takfiri” interests.
The security services and Hezbollah are currently conducting an aggressive and wide-ranging search of the southern suburbs and the surrounding area after receiving information about a plan to detonate seven car bombs targeting Shiites.
There are two possible outcomes of the explosion in Ruwaiss, the sources said. If a Cabinet lineup is announced in the coming days and the new government takes responsibility for the deteriorating security situation, Lebanon could be prevented from succumbing to sectarian conflict. Unfortunately, this scenario seems all but impossible given the current political impasse.
The second and more likely possibility is that Lebanon will become a stage for regional and international powers to send messages to each other through bombings and rocket attacks until the country boils over and another emergency deal in the vein of the 1989 Taif Agreement or the 2008 Doha Accord is struck.
Following last week’s meeting of the Supreme Defense Council that lasted for over three hours, The Daily Star learned that the security chiefs had prior knowledge that a 2002 black BMW 735 was being prepared for use in a targeted bombing, and that the car used in Ruwaiss matched this description. During the meeting, officials read reports prepared by the security and military branches and assessed the security threat to the southern suburbs and other areas.
Several council members reportedly asked what the security forces have accomplished since the first bombing of Bir al-Abed in July to prevent another similar attack. In response, caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn released a statement mapping out some of the investigation’s leads.
The council meeting concluded with an agreement to boost surveillance in the southern suburbs and other areas where Sunni-Shiite tension is high, including Tariq al-Jadideh.