By Ghassan Kadi for the Saker Blog
The intriguing twists and turns following the catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s Sea Port have thus far had international repercussions, beginning with the visit of French President Marcon to Beirut just three days after the disaster; a visit that could hardly be classified as a visit of a foreign head of state to another country.
Marcon did not go to Lebanon just to meet with Lebanese President Aoun, even though the two did meet.
Macron met with the political leaders of Lebanon; aka the traditional power brokers, including the heads of militia who have steered Lebanon into the 1975-1989 civil war, destroyed the state that was once called the Switzerland of the East, and continued to rule Lebanon thereafter, leading to its almost total demise.
Macron’s visit left behind major pointers:
- With the arrogance of a returning colonial head, he literally told the Mafia leaders that he does not trust them. He announced that foreign aid will not be handed to Lebanese authorities and that they all benefited from the collapse of the Central Bank and that they know that he knows that.
- He shunned the Lebanese President Aoun at his news conference that followed his meeting with him and had him literally pushed away. This humiliation is forever etched on film.
- He promised to return to Lebanon on the 1st of September, the centennial anniversary of Lebanon in its current political and geographical form. He gave the leaders until that date to resolve the endemic problem of corruption otherwise he would bring in a new pact.
- What was least reported about his visit was his insistence that Hezbollah was represented in his meeting with Lebanon’s political leaders.
According to international law, French President Macron has no business interfering with Lebanese politics. Reality stipulates otherwise. What Marcon said to Lebanese leaders on the August 7 visit is tantamount to saying that France created Lebanon a hundred years ago, then left it later in Lebanese hands, but the Lebanese failed, and that the leaders have until the 1st of September 2020 (the centenary of the State) to fix it. Either way, Marcon will be back on the 1st of September to recreate Lebanon with or without them.
A few days after his departure, Western frigates steamed into Beirut’s devastated Sea Port and without any coordination with what is left of the Lebanese authorities.
With the military vessels came aid, medical aid in the form of field hospitals, medicines, as well as food and fuel aid, all of which are most welcome and needed by Lebanon. Of note was the ‘miraculous’ international attention and focus on a country and people who have been robbed by their own leaders and punished by the West for having Hezbollah involved in the political process of administering the country.
It would be foolhardy to assume that the Beirut Sea Port disaster and the decision for the UAE and Israel to formally establish a diplomatic relationship a few days later were events that were connected and deliberately planned and timed. Such initiatives take much time to develop. That said, the Beirut disaster might have lubricated some rusty deadlocks and facilitated some movements, decisions, and possibly generated some unforeseeable domino effects.
Whichever way seen, the situation in Lebanon reached a breaking point, perhaps only salvageable by way of radical measures including steps to save its people from certain famine.
As a secular Syrian/Lebanese Levantine who is patriotic and endeavours to see the Levant united, strong and in a position of self-determination, I cannot see a more important political objective to pursue other than achieving the ability of self-determination. After all, this is what all self-respecting people demand and expect.
In the following few paragraphs, I am stating historical facts that do not necessarily reflect my point of view.
Egypt took upon itself the slogan of ‘total liberation of Palestine’ during the era of Egyptian President Nasser from 1952 to 1970. But his successor, Sadat, was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. Nearly a decade earlier however, Jordan expelled the PLO from its territory, inadvertently sending its fighters to Lebanon. In 1969, and after a number of clashes between the Lebanese Army and the PLO, a deal was brokered by Egyptian President Nasser between the Lebanese Government and the PLO and which allowed the PLO to use Lebanese soil to launch attacks on Israel. That was known as the Cairo Accord.
For better or for worse, the Cairo Accord marked the end of Lebanon as a neutral state and put it in the forefront of confrontation with Israel.
If we apply the above to the politics and political positions within Lebanon, please allow me to put on the hat of the devil’s advocate and speak on behalf of the anti-Axis of Resistance sector.
As other Arab states have walked away from their roles in being defendants of the Palestinian cause and sold out to the Western Road Map one way or another, many Lebanese who have lived and were brought up with the concept that Lebanon was/is the Switzerland of East, neither accept nor understand why it suddenly became the spearhead of resistance against the Israeli/American/NATO-based influence of hegemony.
If we add to this predicament the modus operandi of Israel and its Western backers, where adversaries and potential ones are given ultimatums to comply to their agendas or face decimation, then Lebanon has been placed in a very dangerous position, and in reality, it was.
Prior to this, after two decades of Arab-Israeli wars, Lebanon remained neutral. Even during the 1967 so-called Six-Days-War, Lebanon maintained its neutral stance and did not partake. With Egypt signing a peace treaty with Israel, and Jordan following, the Axis-of-Resistance was transformed and reduced to the North-East borders of Israel; ie the Syrian/Lebanese-Israeli borders.
Many Syria haters condemn Syria for not opening its borders for direct confrontation with Israel since 1967. What those critics fail to understand is that Syria was not equipped sufficiently to fight a conventional war with Israel; especially after the dismantling of the USSR. Syria however did everything within her power to provide the Axis-of-Resistance forces in Lebanon with all support possible to engage in asymmetric wars with Israel, and the investment paid dividends; the most impressive of which was the liberation of South Lebanon from Israeli forces in May 2000.
Many Lebanese will disagree with the above and proclaim that Lebanon was left alone. In more ways than one, they are right given that, notwithstanding Syria’s support, all of the military confrontations actually took place on Lebanese soil. This ultimately meant that the entire onus of the Arab cause of confrontation with Israel has been thrown on the shoulders of the little state of Lebanon.
Many Lebanese are supportive of this view, including pro Axis-Of-Resistance Lebanese who feel that they have been sold out by Arab complacency and treachery.
In reality, Arabs have to make up their minds and do this collectively. They must either decide to resist the American/Israeli Road Map or agree to endorse it. Neither stand is being taken where instead they stand on a half-way mark; a mark that does not hurt them, but is devastating Lebanon.
Recently, the Arabian Gulf states publicly made direct and indirect indications of desiring peace with Israel. However, they lacked the fortitude to sign peace agreements despite often working together covertly and at times overtly. In the last few days, the United Arab Emirates decided to break the mould and establish reciprocal diplomatic relationships with Israel. This came as no surprise.
Of interest is that Lebanese President Aoun appears to be capitalizing on this event in order to extract himself out of the corner he painted himself in.
Beaten, abandoned and shunned, in a recent address, Aoun hinted to the possibility of negotiating peace with Israel.
Aoun has a long history of a revolving door when it comes to changing allies and enemies. As Army Chief in the early 1980’s, he was an ally of the Christian Militia (Lebanese Forces) and jointly fought the Syrian Army presence in Lebanon. Later that decade, he turned against the ‘Lebanese Forces’ and, in the midst of a sectarian civil war, engaged himself in a bitter Lebanese Christian Maronite versus Christian Maronite battle, causing much devastation to an already shattered Beirut and neighbouring areas. This was just before he was forced into exile in France by the Syrian Army, only to return to Lebanon fifteen years later as an ally of Syria and Hezbollah in 2005.
In his ascendance to the Presidency in 2016, an achievement finally reached at the age of 80, unlike others who virtually inherited the position from their elders, Aoun displayed, at least publicly, a spark which many interpreted as coming from the fact that he, independently, built his own political career.
Senile as he may appear, and under the influence of his highly corrupt son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, he is possibly still capable of finding alternative ways to survive, at least for the continuation of his legacy that could see his son-in-law at the presidential helm.
According to a private political source from a friend who is well connected, away from the public eye, some negotiations are underway between France and Hezbollah. The insistence of France to have Hezbollah represented in the wider meeting of Lebanese leaders with Marcon was only meant to be an introduction for further talks, and specifically to more bilateral talks that involve France and Hezbollah. According to the friend, Macron is trying to push for a French initiative that breaks the deadlock between Hezbollah and the West. The details of such talks are not clear yet, but all parties to be involved will be asked to accept certain concessions.
As a matter of fact, it has been reported recently that Macron has told Trump that the American sanctions on Lebanon are counterproductive. This makes one wonder if this is an attempt on the part of Macron to bolster his initiative with credibility and support from Hezbollah. With this said, Macron will have to take a very long shot to be trusted by Hezbollah, if this is achievable at all.
In the meantime, President Aoun is quite aware of this and is feeling excluded and abandoned, even by Lebanon’s traditional ‘mother’; ie France. He is in desperate need to resurrect his position.
In touting peace talks with Israel, Aoun seems to be making three pertinent statements. He is signaling to Hezbollah that he is prepared to sever his political alliance with them, but more importantly, he is signaling to the whole West, primarily to the USA, that he is a viable negotiation partner, desirous to sign a peace treaty with Israel. He knows how such words resonate to American foreign policy architects. Most importantly perhaps, Aoun is signaling to Macron that it is pay-back time. He is showing Marcon the finger and reciprocating his ‘undiplomatic’ demeanour, presenting to him that he is prepared to marginalize Marcon and France as a whole by directly talking to America, leaving France out of a new historic Middle East peace deal.
Such a desperate attempt may lure America to sit at the negotiating table with Aoun, but it will not resolve the anger and agitation against the leadership regarding the numerous domestic problems leading up to the Sea Port disaster and what followed.
Will the USA swallow Aoun’s bait and go out of its way to save his hide? No one knows. What seems inevitable is that, with or without any warming up of relations between France and Hezbollah, Hezbollah is undertaking much restructuring and reinvention. Hezbollah leadership is quite aware that the time of its political alliance with Aoun is over one way or another, and is currently considering the implementation of many changes, albeit their details remain unclear.
The events of the next few weeks, especially following the upcoming second visit of Macron on the 1st of September, will be pivotal in deciding the fate and roles of all stakeholders and entities that have held the fate of Lebanon in their hands.