The campaign led by Hezbollah in Lebanon to normalize relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime goes beyond the traditional political acrimony in the country.
It’s a new moment of the bitter moments of confrontation against “the curse of geography.” So how is it when Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has declared two triumphs: the victory of Lebanon in 2006, which he celebrated again, and victory in Syria, which he linked to the first, in a single speech?
There is a fait accompli in Syria in which the headline is that Assad has won. It is true that the victory came at the price of the destruction of nearly half of the country’s buildings and the immigration or internal displacement of more than 13 million people within and outside the country, with too many lives lost or maimed, but it’s still victory according to the standards of Assad and his allies.
Nasrallah has already emerged victorious over Israel, at the expense of Lebanon's economy and its fragile civil peace, but the cost of all this was not taken into consideration in the balance of wins and losses.
Those who are pushing for normalizing relations between Lebanon and Syria are not driven by the “curse of geography” and what it requires in terms of building proper rules for the relationship between the two countries and reviewing Lebanese-Syrian ties before the Syrian war and after it but they are actually motivated by a fervent desire to invest in Assad’s victory, as they perceive it to be a victory achieved within Lebanon before being a Syrian one.
To normalize relations with Syria, the representative of relations between the two countries shouldn’t be people like Syrian Major General Ali Al -Mamlouk, who is wanted by the Lebanese judiciary on charges of conspiracy against national security in the case of Michel Samaha!
Those who want real normalization do not pretend they want to normalize ties for the sake of the Syrian refugees’ return home when in fact the regime rejects their return and puts conditions that make their return impossible, especially since it claims that Syrian society has become “more homogenous” after the war.
Are we supposed to believe that the person who refined this process of “homogeneity” of the Syrian society with the use of explosive barrels and mass displacement now wants to revert to the reality of “pre-homogenous” time?!
Those who are pushing for normalizing relations between Lebanon and Syria are not driven by the “curse of geography” and what it requires in terms of building proper rules for the relationship between the two countries and reviewing Lebanese-Syrian ties before the Syrian war and after it but they are actually motivated by a fervent desire to invest in Assad’s victory, as they perceive it to be a victory achieved within Lebanon before being a Syrian oneNadim Koteich
These are the consequences of the “times of victory,” and rushing to turn the clock back is linked to Lebanon’s location and its role, not just regarding Syria, but regarding other issues and roles in the region.
In his recent speeches, Nasrallah clearly stated that Lebanon was at the brink of a new political phase. Nasrallah revived the public attack against Saudi Arabia, then his party received a Houthi delegation in Beirut to declare that it’s all one battle fought against one enemy on several fronts.
While it is natural for Nasrallah to behave in this manner, the most frightening thing in this new phase is the ambiguous position of President Michel Aoun in terms of the political priorities pushed to the forefront by Hezbollah.
There is growing skepticism that the political demands on the formation of the government, the distribution of quotas and the desire to diminish other parties’ power in it as expressed by the president's son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, are not legitimate demands, but rather a cover to produce a government within a political perception that takes into consideration what Nasrallah expressed in his last speech about the victory of the axis to which he belongs.
Consequently, the position of President Aoun implies a political position that goes beyond his view of his powers or status to the political status and role of the era within the raging game of axes. Little by little, it seems that the president is exiting the area of compromise, which made him president, into a new territory which suggests that his election was indeed an early indication of the victories which Nasrallah is talking about today.
Policy of self-exclusion
On the Syrian issue, the president did not succeed in presenting his position as president of Lebanon who is destined to deal with the “curse of geography.” He neither cut the way for Hezbollah to invest in this “victory” nor set up national rules to rearrange Lebanese-Syrian relations.
On the subject of Lebanon's Arab relations, the president did not succeed in making the presidency a strong fortress for the policy of dissociation and transform the latter from a mere fig leaf that covers political weakness into a real policy that protects Lebanon and the interests of the Lebanese people.
The Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri did well when he said that no government will be formed if the price is normalization with the Assad regime. By taking this position, he calmly placed a very high ceiling supported by Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea. It’s probably best to go further in confronting Hezbollah’s ease to go back and play the Yemeni card and to confront its actual overthrow of the policy of dissociation. This requires a position from the president of the republic as without it, the prime minister's position will remain deficient and weak.
There are serious indications that “the era” is slipping in the wrong direction and that Hezbollah may succeed in turning the clock back amidst serious efforts to turn the presidency of Michel Aoun into something that resembles the time of Emile Lahoud.
Going back to the year 1998 is dangerous. The president’s responsibility is nothing less than historical.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Nadim Koteich is a leading Arab satirist. His show DNA airs Monday to Friday on Future and Al Hadath channels. He is a columnist with Asharq Alawsat. He tweets @NadimKoteich.