Lebanon : a future dilemma for the West?

The American Secretary of State has made an unplanned visit to Beirut where she met the President of Lebanon last weekend. The country will soon face challenges that could destabilize the region and the United- States know it.

The first challenge is the return in the limelight of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), that had been launched on March 1st 2009 and which investigates on terrorist attacks in Lebanon among which the one which caused the death of Rafik Hariri on February 14th, 2005. Indeed, the STL ordered on Wednesday the release of four Lebanese generals kept in jail since 2005 in the framework of the investigation. The assassination of the leader and the creation of the STL had poisoned the Syrian-Lebanese relations and the Lebanese got divided between “pro” and “anti-Syrian. » The death of R. Hariri led to the « Cedar Revolution » that demanded the end of the Syrian presence and influence on the Lebanese soil.

Second challenge: June legislative elections. Polls are currently not illuminating on the outcome of the ballot but the Europeans and the Americans, who support the anti-Syrian majority, are worried. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that Hezbollah won.
However, in a context of regional tensions around the “Party of God” and Iran (see our Editorial of April 17th, 2009 « Egyptian Concerns »), such a victory would not be positively seen by both the West and some Arab regimes.

Moreover, in this case, the West would have to face a dilemma it would prefer to avoid: accepting a dialogue with Hezbollah as the winner of the election or returning to a “Palestinian scenario”, boycotting Hezbollah as it is the case with Hamas? Indeed, drawing here a parallel is tempting: both parties are listed as « terrorist organizations » in America and B. Obama said once again that the United States would not engage with Hezbollah until it has recognized Israel and renounced violence.

However, the boycott of Hezbollah could be far more damaging and complicated than the American and European stubbornness not to recognize Hamas as a partner, despite the fear that Hezbollah causes in the West, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which is added to the specter of Iran and Syria the “Party of God” is often assimilated to. It would be damaging because the West cannot boycott a Lebanese government as easily as it has boycotted the Syrian regime or the leaders of Hamas in Palestine since Lebanon embodies too many economic, political and cultural interests and ties to the West.

It would be complicated because Hezbollah is not Hamas: the movement is highly structured and witnesses a varied, spread and solid support since the Israeli attack of summer 2006. Its ability to present itself as the defender of the Arabs -and not only the Shiites- against Israel and its impressive communication strategy made the party a recognized player in the whole Arab scene. Hezbollah also stood up to the powerful Israeli military forces in 2006 like no movement or country has ever done. Finally, in contrast to Hamas, the movement has the direct support of some States.

Destabilizing force in the Middle East or symbol of creeping Islamization of the region for some, Hezbollah is for others the only effective resistance to Israel. If the “Party of God” had to take a new position after the Lebanese elections in June, the West would have to make a decision with decisive consequences: to dig a deeper gap between the West and the Arab world or to accept to be coherent towards basic democratic principles.

Luce Ricard