Iran and Saudi Arabia may not have healed their strained relationship just yet, but political sources in Lebanon are still hoping their shared interest in Lebanon’s stability may lead to an arrangement prioritizing the country’s security over political considerations.
Despite tensions arising over the failure of Lebanon’s bickering political factions to form a government, observers say certain positive indications from Tehran and Riyadh could at least nudge everyone toward the National Dialogue table. Without an attempt at dialogue and consensus, these sources feel Lebanon’s stability and economic development could continue to stagnate or worsen.
According to sources, Lebanon’s relative stability – a few exceptions notwithstanding – is a result of independent decisions by Iran and Saudi Arabia to keep Lebanon fairly neutral in the context of larger regional struggles, particularly the Syrian crisis, that have increasingly taken on a sectarian tinge. The sources insist that despite Hezbollah’s open participation in the battle in Syria, this will not affect the resolve of its regional sponsor, Iran, to keep Lebanon out of the fray.
It was against this background that Speaker Nabih Berri and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met over the weekend. According to sources in the Future Movement, the two men discussed how to extricate Lebanon from its current stalemate, even if it means making some concessions. However, the meeting did not yield any results, with the sources blaming the strict conditions imposed by each figure’s respective party.
The March 14 alliance is insistent on a neutral government to steer the country in the event of a presidential vacuum, while the March 8 alliance will fight until the end for a government representing each party based on its size in Parliament.
Separately, some Shiite parties, and particularly Hezbollah, have taken up once more the slogan “Thank you, Qatar” following that country’s successful efforts to secure the release of nine Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped and held in Syria for over a year.
“In politics, there are no lasting friendships or feuds; only interests are permanent,” said a source close to March 8. The source went on to say that all things can be re-evaluated, and that if the Qataris were serious about reviewing their approach to Lebanon with the interests of the Lebanese at heart, then “they are welcome.”
“We welcome any effort toward improving relations with other Arabs in order to resolve the situation in Lebanon,” the source said.
He emphasized that Qatar has a pivotal regional role to play since Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani ascended to power in Qatar, adding that the country enjoys ties with the United States and Israel, it has also reached out to the Syrian regime through Iran and capitalized on the resolution of the Azaz hostage file to cobble together an Iranian-Qatari-Western umbrella to shield Lebanon. Qatar is working toward bringing Saudi Arabia into this arrangement after Riyadh angrily rejected a seat on the Security Council.
But despite these promising developments, the issue of forming a government in Lebanon remains knotted. A source close to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said he has recently come under pressure to reconsider his options regarding the new Cabinet. Outside forces are now pushing for one of two proposals: Either a technocrat government drawing on specialists in all fields, or a hybrid political-technocrat government of carefully chosen candidates.
Some observers have expressed optimism that early signs of a thaw between Tehran and Riyadh could still yield fruit, pointing out that Lebanon’s government formation would undoubtedly be included on the agenda of any high-level meeting between the two countries.