For some in ‘occupied’ and ‘subjugated’ Lebanon the nightmare is over; for others, the country is approaching a regional cliff edge.
In fact, Lebanon is going through a second ‘March 14th’ uprising, this time against direct Iranian ‘hegemony’ which was always the real thing, compared to the first uprising against Syria’s ‘security custody’ which was very much a mere shadow of that real thing.
Many have viewed the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from a post that was always a flimsy cover of the above-mentioned hegemony, as a step in the right direction. If anything, his resignation may have been overdue, since his only task was rubber-stamping, without questions or reservations.
Those relieved that Hariri had resigned have always felt that he had already lost a good deal of credibility in both the nationalist and Sunni Muslim camps. Moreover, he had been too passive in the face of unrelenting effort to discredit him through pushing him and the military and security forces to accept Iran’s political and security hegemony, and to turn the Lebanese national army into an understudy to a sectarian militia led from abroad and serves foreign aims.
In the meantime, there still are certain groups that are happy to be passive, and continue their futile wait, at the expense of Lebanon’s national identity, Arab interests, and even its demographic composition. Up till now these groups have convinced themselves that diplomacy and appeasement are enough to check Iran’s expansionism fuelled by armed-blackmail already used several times both inside and outside Lebanon.
However, what Ali Akbar Velayati, the political adviser to ‘The Supreme Guide’, said in Beirut after meeting with Hariri was the clearest haughty indication that Lebanon was now under Tehran’s hegemony, extending from southern Iraq to the Mediterranean across large Syrian territories. The Iranian regime has, thanks to Hassan Rouhani’s and Javad Zarif’s diplomacy and Mohammed Ali Jafari’s and Qassen Suleimani’s militias, destroyed national borders drawn in 1920 to separate the Arabs, and had many ‘Arabists’ dreaming of bringing down. Through ISIS (and those behind it) and Iran’s sectarian militias, there are no more borders between Iraq and Syria, or between Syria and Lebanon; thus, Iran now enjoys a corridor to the Syrian and Lebanese Levantine coasts. What Velayati said in Lebanon in front of those supposed to be entrusted with the Lebanese ‘state sovereignty’ laid bare the Iranian plans for the whole region, not only a Lebanon under the military occupation of Hezbollah.
Given the above, one should seriously ask: What next?
On the Lebanese front, I believe Saad Hariri did what he had to do, first as a patriotic leader who believes in an independent sovereign Lebanon, and second as Sunni Muslim leader in a time when Sunni Arabs are being only targeted and marginalised in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. His decision was not an easy one, more so as many Lebanese politicians – including him – have been for the last two years warning against political ‘vacuum’, and, subsequently, that any political way out was less damaging than that ‘vacuum’.
However, since agreeing to elect General Michel Aoun as President and appointing Hariri as Prime Minister heading a ‘consensus cabinet, including Hezbollah minister, Lebanon lived the worst scenario of ‘vacuum’ in peaceful manner without a shot fired in anger!
Under Aoun’s Presidency and Hariri’s ‘consensus cabinet’, Iran’s influence inside Lebanon gained both a cover of legitimacy and an involuntary acquiescence from representatives of its religious sects. Furthermore, displaced Syrian refugees became victims of animosity highlighting the high cost of their stay, and their individual transgressions rather than holding responsible for the whole phenomenon the Lebanese players – namely, Hezbollah –, who caused their displacement as a result of their fighting on Bashar Al-Assad’s side in Syria, without a governmental or popular Lebanese mandate.
Moreover, pressure was put to make the army’s and security’s ‘defence doctrine’ an almost carbon copy of that of Hezbollah, which is part and parcel of Iran’s revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
Finally, the post of the Prime Minister – reserved to the Sunnis – was more than once marginalised, and its authority compromised. A salient example was when Gebran Bassil, the Foreign Minister and the President’s son – in – law, ignored the cabinet collective responsibility and the Prime Minister’s position against the Syrian regime, by meeting Walid Al-Mu’allem, Al-Assad’s foreign Minister in New York!
I believe Saad Hariri did what he had to do, first as a patriotic leader who believes in an independent sovereign Lebanon, and second as Sunni Muslim leader in a time when Sunni Arabs are being only targeted and marginalized in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.Eyad Abu Shakra
Thus, in the light of Hezbollah’s monopoly of heavy weapons and its ability to penetrate the Christian community, through aligning itself with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) - which provided it with a political and religious cover reflecting the logic of ‘Alliance of Minorities’- the ‘consensus cabinet’ insured Hezbollah achieved most of its aims. They included securing its favourite ‘electoral law’ and getting away with its strategy towards the sensitive Sunni town of Arsal near Lebanon northeast borders with Syria. The non-existing, or fake, consensus spared Hezbollah the need to use military force in order to impose its will, and tighten its control of the country.
Saad Hariri’s resignation has, thus, pulled the cover over a sinister situation that was damaging to him as well as to Lebanon had it continued. The outgoing Prime Minister has done the right thing, preventing “filling the vacuum with another vacuum’, throwing the ball into the world community’s court.
Lebanon, at any rate is but one link in the Middle East chain. The resignation of a Prime Minister who finally decided not to be a cover for a plan for regional hegemony is certainly an important step in blocking it, however, it is not enough on its own. It will not bear fruits without a serious willingness to block and derail this plan from a much higher level.
Hariri was subjected to many criticisms during the past year, but he has now acted courageously. Will he now be supported by those vocal critics of Tehran’s policies, ambitions, and plans for hegemony underpinned on its arsenals inside Iran, and its active militias in several Arab countries?
Will the world community react with serious urgency in dealing with a Middle East nearing boiling point?
And is there a genuine understanding of how dangerous it is to allow religion-clad extremist ideologies to establish its sway in a highly sensitive area, where ethnic, religious and sectarian identities intersect, nor far from the heart of Europe?
In 2005, when the Lebanese people rose against a ‘security custody’ imposed from across its borders, the world community reacted quickly only to forget them soon after.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949