The foreign diplomatic community in Lebanon has sent its condolences regarding the assassination of Mohammad Shatah, an adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
A member of that community, a Western diplomatic source, told The Daily Star that Shatah’s death was a sign that Lebanon was living through a period where strife much worse than political collapse was looming. He advised that politicians heed President Michel Sleiman’s call for all political parties to convene the National Dialogue and discuss ways to stabilize the security situation during this delicate period.
The source said he believed stability could only be reached in the country if the National Dialogue agenda focused on “saving the state, keeping it away from regional struggles and placing all the parties under the sole authority of the state.” Leaders, he said, should keep talk of disarming Hezbollah off the table until there was a clear end in sight for regional strife, particularly the war in Syria.
“The Lebanese should preserve the status quo because any attempt to stir it would bring ravages worse than those Lebanon is witnessing right now,” the source said. “This is the last chance [for the Lebanese to safeguard their county] and this chance is running out of time.”
“If the hawks in both camps [March 14 and March 8] continue to do all the talking then there will be no doves or hawks left,” he added.
Shatah’s assassination has signaled to the country’s political players that more targeted attacks could follow. Political sources said the tactic of physically eliminating national figures appears to have returned since a spate of political assassinations in the mid-2000s.
In response, March 14 MPs and leaders have boosted security measures around their homes, offices and convoys, the sources said. Their worry is understandable, the sources added, since Shatah was not seen as a vulnerable political figure according to a list circulated by security forces.
As a result of the attack, a minister in the caretaker Cabinet has decided to travel abroad for safety reasons. The minister – who was not identified – fears he could be assassinated to send a message to the senior political figure he follows.
But the same sources were hopeful that the latest assassination might prompt political parties to take initiative and fill the political power vacuum, particularly regarding Cabinet formation. They said Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam would be among the first to push for a new Cabinet. Sources close to them have already leaked that the two have a potential Cabinet lineup, which could take form by Jan. 15.
But the negative effects of Shatah’s assassination are grave, and the country may continue to plunge into an ever-worsening security situation that is also unlimited in its geographic scope, sources said. Friday’s attack was the first in Beirut’s Central District since the start of the Syrian war.
The sources feared that civil strife would escalate to multiple regions and further disrupt the political, security and economic situation.