Western powers, particularly those that make up the International Support Group for Lebanon, are not amused by the vacancy in the Lebanese presidency, nor do they see any evidence that Lebanese political leaders care a wink so long as their personal political ambitions remain untouched.
Diplomatic sources monitoring Lebanese affairs say that the recurring shocks that have rocked Lebanon in the form of bombings, clashes and rocket fire, coupled with the paralysis of its major constitutional institutions and the atrophy of the economy have raised concerns in Western circles regarding the irresponsibility displayed by Lebanese officials. As a result, the International Support Group for Lebanon has put the brakes on its assistance to Lebanon, assistance that was practically frozen anyway due to the absence of any authority to follow up and monitor the receipt of funds.
The sources said that Western countries encouraged dialogue and communication between the Lebanese political forces, such as the recent thaw between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, Speaker Nabih Berri and the Progressive Socialist Party. This attempt at dialogue, even if it does not lead to immediate results, helps ease popular frustration and creates a positive atmosphere that will facilitate the resolution of the current stalemate, thus paving the way for a return a sense of normalcy to daily life and the revival of state institutions, including those responsible for safeguarding stability.
The sources added that Lebanon’s allies are indeed mobilizing to address the multiple crises facing the country, first among them the vacuum in the presidency, despite international preoccupation with the big regional issues such as Syria, Iraq and the Iranian nuclear program. A concerted effort is being made by the French, Americans and the Vatican, in coordination with Saudi Arabia and Iran, to address the presidential crisis, or at least to deactivate the trigger that could detonate fragile Lebanon.
Another highly placed source said that efforts were continuing in order to secure a quorum in Parliament to elect a new president, which should be a top priority. He acknowledged that the external pressure driving the Lebanese apart had so far proved stronger than internal pressure to elect a new president, despite the necessity of strengthening the state to shield Lebanon from the fallout of the regional volcano. Even Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai appeared to lose his temper in his speech celebrating St. Charbel over the weekend when he accused Parliament of being dysfunctional and parliamentarians of neglecting their national duty.
The source went on to say that recent political and security developments should provoke some movement on the presidential question. They include discreet Western mobilization to improve conditions for the election of a consensus president as soon as possible in case of any emergency or security incident whose repercussions would be difficult to manage without the proper leadership in place.
Second, concern is growing about the fallout of the Israeli war on Gaza, which does not appear to be a normal military faceoff between Hamas and Israel and could ignite the region. The source noted that Lebanon was in danger of being dragged into the conflict as well, adding that rocket fire from the southern border into Israel was likely an attempt by some groups to expand the scope of the war, especially given that the rockets coincided with rocket fire from the Sinai Peninsula. Third, the source said, Lebanon cannot receive international aid until the presidential void is filled and state institutions are reactivated.