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Macron’s Lebanon initiative will have a placebo effect

Makram Rabah

Published: Updated:

The recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron during the week to The Gulf was a chance to reaffirm France’s bilateral ties as well as its role in bringing stability to a region which is plagued with Iran’s unrestricted expansionist project.

Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia also took on further importance to the people of Lebanon who were anxiously awaiting his initiative to bring an end to the diplomatic crisis which saw the country ostracized by its Arab brethren, who reacted violently to the statements of Lebanon’s Minister of Information George Kordahi over Yemen and his support of the Houthis.

While initially Kordahi - a mouthpiece for the alliance of minorities and the Syria-Iran axis - refused to apologize and tender his resignation, he quit one day before Macron met with the Saudi leadership, in what many saw as an opportunity to break the ongoing deadlock.

True to his promise Macron was able to convince the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to agree to take a phone call with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati. It was a conversation which underscored France and Saudi’s commitment to help Beirut implement much needed reforms to escape its current economic and political crisis.

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To the Lebanese, and particularly the pro-Iran faction, this simple phone call was affirmation that they had won this diplomatic duel and that Saudi Arabia had once again failed to force Lebanon to publicly stand up to Hezbollah and its occupation of the country and its sovereignty.

In reality a re-examination of the French initiative and Saudi acquiescence to it reveals otherwise, as the move actually places Lebanon and its ruling establishment under more pressure to reform and importantly - to challenge Hezbollah’s hold over it. This is something that both countries have repeatedly failed to do.

The Saudi-French-Lebanese cordial phone call was an occasion to remind the murky Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the recent diplomatic debacle substantiated that he had no sway over his own cabinet, and that the Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, and the ruling elite were in command of this so-called technocratic independent government.

Both Macron and Mohammad bin Salman reminded the Lebanese that normalization can only happen once Lebanon ceases to be “a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the security and stability of the region, and a source of drug trafficking.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati attends a joint press conference after his meeting with his Jordanian counterpart at the Grand Serail in Beirut, on September 30, 2021. (AFP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati attends a joint press conference after his meeting with his Jordanian counterpart at the Grand Serail in Beirut, on September 30, 2021. (AFP)

They also stressed the importance of maintaining Lebanon's stability and respecting its sovereignty and unity in accordance with Security Council resolutions (1559), (1701) and (1680) and other relevant international resolutions.

In reality, the Macron initiative further disenfranchised the Lebanese state and consequently the public who have failed to realize that their perpetual suffering will not end unless they understand that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are no longer willing to bankroll a country that doubles as a base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its Levant outlet Hezbollah.

The new road map for Lebanon’s recovery set in Jeddah over the weekend requires Mikati to challenge Hezbollah each and every time it acts, starting with the ongoing smuggling of Iranian diesel, a situation that Mikati coolly sidestepped by timidly declaring “the violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad."

Mikati and the Lebanese apprehension to also stand up to Hezbollah transforming their country into a narco-state that exports millions of amphetamine pills to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the wider region, will not be brushed under the rug.

Above all Lebanon must understand that Hezbollah and its trans-regional activities have direct repercussions on the national security of the many Arab Gulf states. This does not only apply to the Yemeni conflict.

Kuwait, regarded by many as the most restrained among the Gulf nations is in the process of dismantling another Hezbollah cell. Contrary to what Iran and its Lebanese lackeys are promoting, Saudi Arabia is not the only obstacle for Lebanon normalizing relations with the Arab world, but rather it is Hezbollah.

It is important to remember the last time President Macron intervened to contain the fallout of Saad Hariri’s resignation in 2017 while visiting Saudi Arabia. The outcome was undesirable.

At the time Macron’s good relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia saw the Lebanese state pledge to maintain neutrality, something which it obviously failed to uphold and it contributed to Hariri’s eventual political downfall.

Macron has in fact committed Mikati and Lebanon to an impossible goal, similar to the parents of a lazy student requesting a makeup exam to a son whose abysmal record speaks for itself.

Mikati must be cautious that Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf might be willing to humor the French president, but ultimately it will not compromise on its own security and wellbeing. More importantly, Mikati’s pledges that are similar to his predecessors need to be put into action, or he will face Hariri’s fate of driving Lebanon further under Iranian control.

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