Gun boat diplomacy in Lebanon will not bring back former PM Saad Hariri

Makram Rabah
Makram Rabah
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To call Lebanon a failed state at this stage is nothing short of an understatement, as this nation is grappling with how to stay alive. This has been rendered almost impossible after the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion which destroyed vast swaths of the city and left some 300,000 people homeless and billions of dollars of damages that the Lebanese simply do not have.

If the carnage and destruction of their city was not tragic enough, now there is talk of bringing back a national unity government headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to replace the caretaker government of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who resigned six days after the seismic port explosion. The idea of Hariri returning has infuriated the Lebanese public who object to the return of a political class responsible for their demise and the destruction of their country.

The talk of a national unity government was not triggered by the blast itself, but rather was floated previously by Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and his traditional ally Druze chieftain Walid Joumblatt. They peddled this plan as a way to help Lebanon secure the much-needed loan it is seeking from the International Monetary Fund. On his solidarity trip to Beirut last week, French President Emmanuel Macron was clear to warn the Lebanese political class of the need to reform, yet his shortsightedness, or perhaps duplicity, led him to call for the formation of a national unity government which is neither an option, nor a solution, for Lebanon’s quagmire.

In fact, the terrible state of affairs is largely the product of successive national unity governments, first during the Syrian hegemony over Lebanon that continued after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which have acted as a political fig leave for Hezbollah and its Iranian weapons.

A woman stands inside a damaged restaurant a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)
A woman stands inside a damaged restaurant a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

The French approach to the Lebanese problem wrongly underscores reform as the only way forward and clearly neglects that economic and political reform are a byproduct of good governance, and not the other way around.

Bringing in Hariri to lead a government of “supposed technocrats” representing the different political parties therefore is a recipe for disaster, simply because such a foolish experiment has been tried many times over and has produced the same failed results. Perhaps more wickedly, Macron and many of the European countries that support him are still convinced that the Iranian regime can be contained and that Macron’s outreach to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to bring Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in line and force them to relinquish their hold over Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s primary objective is to maintain its military infrastructure and thus any gesture to cooperate over facilitating the formation of Hariri’s government would be temporary and, more importantly, costly. It will make Hezbollah even stronger and the Lebanese state – or what remains of it – feebler. Macron would simply be doing Iran a favor by forming a national unity cabinet without official Hezbollah representation, but rather “independent” Shia ministers, as this would give the latter a chance to wash its hands from the abysmal economic downfall to which it is a partner.

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Empowering Hariri, against the wish of the people, to lead a salvation cabinet would be a path riddled with challenges. Hariri himself has failed to win over the trust and respect of the Lebanese beyond his Sunni powerbase.

But more importantly, the entire political class regards national unity governments as an avenue to divide the spoils of the state and the billions of dollars in aid money which is set to come their way following the explosion at the port.

The Lebanese political elite and their clients have promoted the notion that an upcoming Hariri cabinet would have the support of the international community, and that reconstruction under French auspices is not far off.

In reality, the French drive to help Lebanon, or perhaps its ruling establishment, is far from receiving the blessing of the United States or the Arab Gulf states which have shown little fervor, only pitching in to relief funds, with no real talk about reconstruction. Both the Trump Administration and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have rightfully showed reservation in funding a government that doubles as cover for Iran’s militia on the Mediterranean.

Both the French and the British have dispatched gunboats to the coast of Lebanon to help in the relief effort and to send a clear message that their wishes to force through a political resolution of Lebanon’s predicament will not go unanswered.

Yet gunboat diplomacy and European wishful thinking belongs in the 19th century. These tactics in the 21st century will fail to convince or coerce Iran into playing nice.

Consequently, the French drive to bring back stability will simply peter out, only to be replaced by forthcoming US sanctions on Lebanon’s political class whose unfathomable corruption and unholy alliance with Hezbollah equally matches the damages from the Beirut blast.

A general view of the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on Aug. 4. (AFP)
A general view of the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on Aug. 4. (AFP)

The Lebanese political elite, including Hezbollah and Iran, are impatiently waiting for the outcome of the US presidential elections in November and hope that a potential Biden Administration would ease off sanctions, granting more leniency to Iran and subsequently giving the regime more room to operate.

The Lebanese who are looking across their coast line and hoping that ships will deliver salvation need to think again and remember that superpowers have their own agendas, which might at times meet theirs. But for Lebanon to be worthy of any sort of deal, Lebanese need to go to the streets and remind the international community that the political class that is trying to pass themselves off as statesmen are mere criminals that should be brought to justice.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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