Political jams seem to be all the rage these days. Trump in a standoff with the Democrats over the Mexican border wall; MPs on both sides in the UK parliament who can’t compromise on Brexit; and President Macron’s game of chance with protestors in Paris.
And there is, of course, Trump’s sanctions on Iran which are being felt right across the Middle East, as allies to the Iranians test the US president’s resolve following the US withdrawal from Syria.
Typically, the Lebanese have to replicate everything in the West but the deadlock between the Hezbollah bloc and that of the West’s in Lebanon, should not be taken lightly.
The crisis has far more dire, gargantuan implications – not least for tiny Lebanon but also the entire region. Once again this fledgeling democracy which most US senators couldn’t find on a map of the Middle East is primed to ignite the entire peninsular over the appointment of a single Sunni, pro-Assad minister which Saad Hariri can't accept to be part of a new cabinet.
Of course, that’s a postcard synopsis of the situation which is more complicated and very much a consequence of Trump’s demonisation of Hezbollah, despite the Lebanese government getting Congress to cut the government in Beirut some slack in its greater program to hit Iran and its proxies.
Hezbollah, or rather its paymaster, unpredictably, had no real direction to go rather than to dig its heels in over this new political makeup of a new government although unwittingly the risky subterfuge by Hezbollah may well blow up in its face.
The Iranian-backed Lebanese group doesn’t want a war with Israel, but unfortunately, if the standoff continues, then an economic meltdown in Lebanon will undoubtedly divide the country and create the perfect chaotic scene which Israel craves, to launch a strike.
Military experts tell me that Israel believes it can hit Hezbollah with the help of other groups in Lebanon and a divided country would be a colossus opportunity if ever there was one. Part of that divide which Israel would capitalise on would be an economic one already underway.
Recently a government minister told me that a new war in Lebanon, even before Israel strikes, will be between those who had savings in the bank and those who do not need cash. In other words, the wealthier middle classes and rich from the Christians and Sunnis would see their savings frozen while thousands lose their jobs as an economy grinds to a halt, as banks inevitably go into preservation mode and halt withdrawals – while Hezbollah, which has its cash economy, would be placed in a position of great power over them.
Iran would take advantage of this scenario to win the support of those who want their money back and want security to return to a failed state. This is the reality today in Lebanon.
From Peter to pay Paul
Of course in the midst of such a crisis, many of those alienated groups may well welcome an Israeli strike or even an invasion which would stretch Hezbollah’s resources to its limits. And while this cauldron of political antagonism reaches a simmering point, we see a dismal lack of any real diplomacy, from the diplomatic community itself.
This is notable as this very community has stood by and watched from the sidelines while President Aoun created a police state in Lebanon and desecrated the axiom of this tiny country being a beacon of the region for human rights – while all along Hezbollah takes more and more powers within the incumbent so-called state, crime rises, corruption takes over.
The Lebanese have stopped calling the country ‘third world’ in mock derision as even in third world countries there is often 24-hour electricity, water and some sort of governance.
The servile and utterly useless diplomats – notably the EU, France and the UK, are held hostage by the Syrian refugee crisis, which makes them impotent and entirely at the mercy of Aoun and his chaotic style of governance.
It’s sickening to see on their twitter feeds how fake their entirely manufactured adoration of the country plays out, while the country races towards the abyss with banks already preparing for measures to prevent capital flight.
Russia and the US though could take a bolder role in the stalemate. The region, and certainly Lebanon, cannot afford a scenario where it is firing long-range missiles into Israeli cities in retaliation. It shouldn’t be an option but even academics, teachers, bank clerks, and politicos now are telling me that while an Israeli attack a few months back was woeful geopolitical fluff, now is a very distinct reality.
The absolute rejection from most Arab leaders to attend a summit in Beirut which had rumours of Assad attending at one point is a part of it. The West has to accept defeat in Syria and that Assad played a long game and can call himself a victor now.
Saad Hariri has to get over it, if no one else can and bite the bullet over the appointment of the Sunni minister who he would see as a Judas in his midst. Yet Hariri is struggling with the notion of democratic process and doesn’t readily accept the lost seats from his party in the parliamentary elections.
Hariri, a man, comically addicted to selfies who apparently lacks any contingent political skills, is actually more part of the problem than ever part of the solution. He can’t accept that Lebanon has become a country almost entirely controlled by Tehran, even if most Christians in Lebanon have long since accepted this mantra.
It’s only a question of time before EU countries will go back and bring Assad in from the cold once and for all and so Hezbollah needs to be smart both for itself and for Hariri. Somebody, after all, has to be smart for Hariri, if he struggles with the gauche task himself.
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