BEIRUT: Lebanon is preparing itself for all eventualities, including a possible closure of Beirut’s airport, to cope with the repercussions of a potential U.S.-led military strike on Syria as officials scrambled Sunday to reassure foreign diplomats about their safety.
“We have studied all the possibilities and taken all precautions [to deal with a military strike on Syria]. If something happens, we will act accordingly,” caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi told The Daily Star.
Asked if the closure of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport was among the options being mulled by the government, he said: “Let’s see first if the [military] strike will be carried out through Lebanon’s airspace or not, what is the size of this strike and where it could lead to.”
“The closure of the airport is a major political decision taken by the government,” Aridi said, when asked if he was ready to order the facility’s closure in the event Syria was attacked by the United States and its Western allies over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
On whether exceptional security measures were being taken to ensure that air traffic would not be affected if Syria was attacked, Aridi said: “This question is premature. When the [military] strike is carried out, we will take the appropriate measures.”
Aridi’s remarks come as U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to be determined to launch a punitive military strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government over the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. .
Fears about the security situation in Lebanon grew after the U.S. State Department last week ordered its nonemergency embassy staff and their family members to leave Lebanon, citing security concerns.
It also urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns and for those in the country to prepare to depart at short notice.
The measures come amid fears that U.S. interests may be under threat if Syria is attacked.The embassy has boosted its security in recent days. Some 200 people staged a rally outside the outer gate of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Awkar Friday to protest the potential attack on Syria.
However, Lebanese officials sought to reassure foreign diplomats that their missions were safe in Lebanon.
“We do not fear for the safety of diplomatic missions because security measures have been taken to protect them,” caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Chabel told the Kuwaiti daily As-Seyasah.
He denied reports that there were threats against some embassies in Lebanon.
Charbel downplayed the importance of the U.S. State Department’s decision to evacuate nonemergency staff from Lebanon: “Their presence at the embassy at the moment is not justified.”
Charbel dismissed fears about Lebanon’s security suffering from a possible fallout of an attack on Syria.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said Lebanese authorities were giving their full attention to Arab and foreign nationals.
“Foreign and Arab citizens [in Lebanon] have the full attention of the Lebanese and the Lebanese state,” Mansour told the state-run National News Agency.
Several Gulf countries along with Britain and the U.S. have issued travel warnings to Lebanon due to the security situation in the country and the possible military strike on Syria.
Asked about the State Department’s decision to pull nonemergency staff and their dependents out of Lebanon, Mansour said: “This is an internal measure by the concerned embassies. We hope they will stay in Lebanon as long as the situation is calm.”
However, in an interview with the Saudi daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Mansour said the decision to evacuate foreign nationals could be a precautionary measure or preparations for a military action.
“The Lebanese government is doing its duty with regard to ensuring security for the embassies and Arab and foreign nationals,” he said.