Lebanon is living in a state of stability forced by international decisions that will continue even if Syria’s regime falls, a Western diplomat told The Daily Star. In the past, personal disputes and ever-growing grudges would have led different Lebanese factions to try and escalate the tense political and security situation.
But international factors have limited the degree of unrest political actors can stir up within the country.
The diplomat argued that nationwide sectarian clashes were unlikely, as regional instability had removed third-party peace brokers such as Qatar – which brokered the Doha Agreement that prevented clashes around Lebanon from escalating into war in 2008.
This diplomat, who regularly meets with Lebanese political leaders, expected the upcoming elections in June to dominate political discussions for the time being. Western states – including European countries, the United States and Russia – have advised Lebanon to proceed with the upcoming vote.
He added that the Cabinet and Prime Minister Najib Mikati were vital to maintaining stability. Reasoning that Mikati would stay regardless of future upheaval because he had international and local support, the diplomat called the premier a guarantor of stability and continuity in Lebanon – two things Western diplomacy cannot afford to tamper with.
The international community would not accept Lebanon entering a state of political vacuum, he said, as some parties could manipulate a ruling crisis to promote their plans to change the current political formula.
Atef Harb, secretary-general of the World Council of the Cedars Revolution, said the U.S. had recently avoided interfering directly in the internal affairs of other countries, especially Syria, which he described as a place of “shifting sands.”
Harb also said there were indirect contacts between American government representatives and Iranian officials after Tehran requested the U.S. slow down discussions of its nuclear plans.
The secretary-generalhas a wide span of relations with members of the U.S. congress and came to Lebanon to hold meetings with Lebanese officials. As for the Syrian situation, Harb relayed that American policy is built more than anything on information gathered from the Syrian battlefield.
The delay of American arms support has complicated the unification of Syrian opposition forces as well as the rise of fundamentalist groups in Syria, Harb said. He compared such groups to those that rose out of the Lebanese Civil War, during which militias with no clear purpose or principles became active.
Harb added that the opposition fighters were unified against one thing: the ousting of President Bashar Assad. But they differ about everything else, an issue that has caused the Western world to curb support for the Syrian opposition.
In the current state of international affairs, Russia benefits while U.S. and other international players hesitate, Harb explained. Iran, on the other hand, has attempted to support the Syrian regime by calling on Hezbollah to interfere alongside regime forces, and by forming a direct line of military supplies through the Iraqi and Syrian border.
Harb said Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is an attempt to preserve the balance of power, currently tipped in its favor, in Lebanon.
If Syrian opposition fighters – including fundamentalist groups – seize control of the border regions with Lebanon, an alliance could form between Syrian and Lebanese forces, some of which are already unified in the north and in some of the Bekaa regions, he said.
By interfering in Syria, Hezbollah seeks to prevent any further such cooperation, which might well have an effect on Lebanon’s fragile internal politics.
Finally, Harb added that Lebanon has slipped below other U.S. interests, namely Syria, Iran, preventing the Muslim brotherhood from spreading its wings too far and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.