Hopes that a Saudi-Iranian deal might pull Lebanon back from the brink of chaos were dashed this week, as diplomacy gave way to confrontation in the wake of Hezbollah’s accusations against Riyadh, a source in the president’s office told The Daily Star.
The source expressed frustration that recent positive developments such as the Emirati foreign minister’s visit to Tehran, the Iranian foreign minister’s encouraging statements regarding Saudi Arabia and Amman’s efforts to bridge the gap between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been all but undone by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s speech this week in which he blamed Saudi Arabia for the Iranian Embassy bombing in Beirut, followed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s scathing response.
This spike in tensions threatens to ruin the chances of a breakthrough in Saudi-Iranian relations, which in turn influence the whole region.
The source lamented that Saudi-Iranian relations remain a regional sticking point at a time when huge efforts were being made to hold the Geneva II conference on time, deals have already been struck over Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear program, and even peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians look like they may witness a revival.
The source went on to say that political stalemate and terrorist attacks in Lebanon were only complicating efforts to find a solution. The positive effects of international support for Lebanon as represented by the statement of the International Support Group for Lebanon, which was adopted by the U.N. Security Council, have yet to materialize on a domestic or regional level, the source said.
The source insisted, however, that “surrender” to the bleak circumstances was not an option, adding: “Efforts [to find a solution] will continue on both a national and international level.”
On the international level, Lebanon is preparing to participate in the second Syrian aid donor conference to be held in Kuwait on Jan. 15. Italy is expected to hold the first meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Rome early next year to discuss assistance to the Lebanese Army. It is also very possible Germany will call for a conference to discuss the subject of Syrian refugees. France may call for yet another meeting to evaluate the work of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris sometime during the first half of next year.
Lebanon is also prepared to participate in the Geneva II conference to address the Syrian crisis, which is scheduled to be held on Jan. 22.
On the domestic front, consultations among all Lebanese parties are expected to intensify, not only regarding the formation of a new government and the possible resumption of the National Dialogue, but also to lay the groundwork for electing a new president come May, when President Michel Sleiman’s mandate expires. Time is crucial, as the earliest date for Speaker Nabih Berri to call a session for holding elections is just a few months away on March 25.
None of these issues will prevent the president from encouraging parliament to continue studying the draft electoral law with the aim of approving new legislation, as well as promoting the launch of a comprehensive plan for administrative decentralization very soon, the source said.
The failure to meet the two-third quorum needed to elect a new president, however, would present a major obstacle. If a new president is not chosen, three possible scenarios could follow: The current caretaker government would take over only the most basic and vital state functions; second, Saudi Arabia and Iran come to an arrangement, which would pave the way for presidential elections in Lebanon; third, Lebanon will fall into a vacuum unlike any other in its history.
However, recent positive indications from many Lebanese parties show they understand the importance of securing the two-thirds quorum needed to elect a president, reviving hope that a solution may still be reached before the deadline.