Lebanon has once more captured the attention of major world powers after being overshadowed by the Syrian crisis. Now that the repercussions of the war in Syria are being heavily felt across Lebanon, the international community has realized that the two countries share profound historical ties and are thus looking for ways to help stabilize Lebanon.
Western diplomatic sources now say they are eager to see the emergence of a government – any independent government – capable of managing the country in the event of a presidential vacuum when President Michel Sleiman’s term ends in May 2014.
A high-ranking official played down hopes that a solution to the political impasse was imminent, despite promising indications from Tehran, Riyadh and Washington suggesting that a comprehensive regional solution was on the horizon. In fact, the source insisted that these developments had only complicated matters for both sides in Lebanon, adding that Independence Day on Nov. 22 would be the earliest possible date for the emergence of a new government, but even that was unlikely.
“None of the regional and Syrian indicators regarding the facts on the ground in Syria show a clear victory for either the regime or the fractured opposition, and consequently, this military impasse in Syria will further stagnate Lebanon and its delicate balance,” the source said.
According to the source, who recently spoke with Western ambassadors in Beirut, the international community has cooled toward Lebanon following Parliament’s decision to extend its mandate and the resignation of the government.
Many countries refuse to deal with either and are insisting Lebanon form a representative government that includes all major groups. The source emphasized that none of the ambassadors to whom he spoke, even those who represent countries opposed to the so-called “resistance axis,” had suggested excluding any political party from the government.
The source attributed this first to an emerging European openness toward Hezbollah, as indicated by Hezbollah MP Ali Bazzi’s meeting with the French Foreign Ministry. Paris is reportedly seeking to play a mediating role in Lebanese internal disputes, playing the godfather role while the other major Western powers sort out their approach to Syria.
France appears to be stepping back from the Syrian file and renewing its efforts in Lebanon after retreating from its earlier commitment to topple the regime in Damascus following the emergence of the American-Russian agreement over Syria’s chemical weapons.
The source added that one of the ambassadors said Western countries considered an “authentic” government essential, especially in light of the challenges posed by the refugee crisis and rising sectarian tensions.
“We have no preference for a particular type of government, but we want a strong government with which we can work and discuss ways to supply Lebanon with military, material and logistical assistance,” the source quoted the diplomat as saying.
The source said the ambassador considered Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam “the best option” at this stage, describing him as a “true moderate” from an “old political family” that had sought to preserve the country by defending its constitution first and foremost.
This dedication to the principle of consensus was embodied by Tammam’s father, the late Saeb Salam, who famously spoke of “no victor, no vanquished” in preserving the Lebanese balance.
Although the ambassador emphasized that his country was keen not to interfere in internal Lebanese affairs, he did offer a subtle dig at the March 8 alliance, insisting that Salam’s success depends on Hezbollah and its allies capitulating to his demands, namely passing ministries on to new parties and denying veto power to any political group.