Friday’s deadly explosion and the discovery of an alleged terrorist network in the heart of the capital underscored a growing pessimism among Arab and Western diplomatic circles regarding Lebanon’s future, diplomatic sources told The Daily Star.
The stability brought about by the security plan and the formation of Tammam Salam’s government will not hold up if Lebanese political rivals fail to put their differences aside to elect a new president to guard the country against fallout from regional crises, they said.
The crisis in Iraq has recast the balance of power and the priorities of Lebanon’s neighbors and allies, as the rise and spread of fundamentalist groups threaten the political and demographic cohesion of several Arab countries.
The sources saw the return of bombings as a threat to the internal Lebanese atmosphere of cooperation that emerged following the formation of the government, especially in light of security reports presented to foreign military attaches that indicate sleeper terrorist cells are hiding in Lebanon with the support of regional parties. Regional powers are monitoring the situation in Iraq closely, while it remains unclear whether the Lebanese will unite to put national interests ahead of personal and political ambitions.
It has become the duty of all parties, including Lebanese and their influential allies, to adhere to a policy of neutrality and state-building, the sources said. Toward this end, the Lebanese should put their differences aside to elect a consensus president, hold parliamentary elections, form a national unity government and do everything else possible to boost national institutions and protect Lebanon from the volatile changes sweeping the region.
The sources characterized Syria as a battleground for proxy wars between regional and international players, pointing out that there appears to be an unintentional convergence between Hezbollah and Israel that eliminates the possibility of a military confrontation on Lebanese soil, which would provoke undesirable reactions for Israel from the Arab and Muslim world as well as from the international community.
Therefore, it is up to the Lebanese to understand and analyze these changes and guard against any fallout by striking an internal accord.
With regard to the presidential election, the sources said it would not be easy to elect one person to lead for six years, and the chances of getting all the Lebanese parties to agree on a particular person is unlikely especially given Iranian and Saudi pressure on their respective allies in Lebanon. The sources had hoped the same method by which the government was formed might lead to the election of a new president, but the intensification of the Saudi-Iranian tensions following events in Syria and Iraq makes that scenario unlikely.
The formation of Salam’s government was preceded by a flurry of diplomatic activity, with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale and U.N. Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly visiting Saudi Arabia, and British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher and a French presidential delegation visiting Iran.
According to the sources, as long as stability prevails internally, even if the government is only nominally functioning, the international community remains confident in Lebanon. But if Friday’s bombing signals a return to the era of instability, the international community will take action by imposing a president without debate.