Lebanon’s influence exceeds population and geography standards although it is a very small country (Kuwait’s area is almost two times more than Lebanon’s). Due to its many crises and problems, its leaders and political groups as well as regional and international powers could not get it out of the path of crises in the region.
An example is the escalation we’ve seen by some government officials, like the foreign minister and the president himself, when dealing with Saad Hariri’s recent resignation as prime minister. It seems quite strange that those defending him are his enemies and political rivals. However, they are probably pushed to do so by a party that has disagreements with Saudi Arabia, like the Qatari or Iranian government. Iran intends to fully control Lebanon after it imposed its presence by force in Syria.
Lebanon has always been a regional arena where powers fought. Arab powers have previously confronted one another in Lebanon. Late Egyptian President Gamal Abdelnasser had to use Lebanon after he realized that it was the center that will defy his project against his rivals in Syria and the Gulf. Iran’s Khomeini used Lebanon against the US by resorting to explosions and assassinations. Syria was the country that exploited Lebanon the most for its activities. Late President Hafez al-Assad and current President Bashar al-Assad justified their interference in Lebanon and domination despite the political cost they endured and said they believed that their small neighbor, i.e. Lebanon, is the source of threat on Syria where international conspiracies are planned and secret operations are launched against them.
A vital role in Yemen
The biggest example of Lebanon as an arena for conflicts is that it’s playing a vital role in Yemen’s wars. The Iranians are using it to manage their security, military and propaganda operations. I’ve mentioned some details on the matter in my previous article. Beirut is the headquarters of international media outlets, and it’s where news and propaganda is marketed. Since Lebanon is under Hezbollah’s control, almost all of the Houthis’ non-military activities are managed from Lebanon and not from Yemen. These activities include political, legal and media campaigns against Saudi Arabia and the coalition and accusations that they’ve caused famine and cholera and targeted civilians. Beirut was also a hideout for politicians who rebelled against Maliki and a center of activities opposing his government. It also turned out that hundreds of millions of dollars went to Hezbollah amid circumstances that remain unclear. Lebanon was an important arena for the Syrian war and for intelligence, recruitment and propaganda-related activities. Most conflicts look for a suitable environment and proper circumstances that are available in Lebanon which is an open country with a weak central authority and whose people have different affiliations.
Regional countries must thus defend their presence and deal with the Lebanese reality. There are allies and rivals and there are no permanent alliances regardless of the sectarian, ideological or familial ties. Saudi Arabia’s major and chronic problem in Lebanon is that Iran as represented by Hezbollah and this is a problem for most of the region’s countries and the world. Riyadh has focused on an important message which is that Lebanon cannot be left as a prey for Hezbollah. The Lebanese people and Arabs who underestimate Hezbollah’s project may not realize that Hezbollah is capable is completely seizing the Lebanese state’s capabilities and authorities and cancelling all its peculiar characteristics in terms of freedoms, plurality and flexibility. Hezbollah will cancel these independent groups, whether Christian or Sunni, if it resumes with its project to transform Lebanon into an annexation of Iran. These new challenges are the responsibility of the Lebanese people themselves who will find regional and international support if they unite against Hezbollah or against foreign domination plans, in general – however, if they don’t, they will be the first to lose in the new formula of Iran’s domination over Iraq and Syria.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.