05/06/2012

Lebanon: situation still under control despite the risk of “contagion”

In last May, clashes between Sunni and Alawite militia left at least four victims in Tripoli during a demonstration organized by them to express their solidarity with the Syrian government and denouncing foreign interference in Syria. According to Alawi, such interference is designed to encourage Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf in toppling the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who plays a key role in the Shiite internationalism, between Iran and Hezbollah. However, the result of the uprising against the regime of al-Assad aims to remodel balance of power in the region, influencing the ambitions of regional hegemony of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Other clashes took place in Beirut, during which two sheiks, members of the opposition party of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, were killed. In response to these incidents, hundreds of supporters of Hariri took to the streets, blocking roads and burning cars. Furthermore, according to a recent UNHCR report, the country of the “forest of the Cedars of God” hosts about 26.000 refugees from the Syrian provinces of Homs and Idlib.

In this scenario obscure, the President of the Republic of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman, continues to assert that the recent armed clashes in Tripoli and Beirut aren’t related to the Syrian crisis and they won’t destabilize the State. In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, Syrian revolutionary flags are presents, as well as Salafist radicals: consequently, we’re watching a struggle between two political blocs that could affect the society, creating tensions leading to clashes similar to those of May 2008.

Governments of Beirut and Damascus have always had their political fates intertwined: the relationship between Lebanon and Syria, which has kept until 2005 military troops on Lebanese territory for 29 years, is marked by a profound political influence. However, some analysts say it seems unlikely that violence in Syria and periodic tensions in Lebanon, especially in areas of the border regions of the Bekaa Valley, could lead to another civil war for several reasons.

First, Lebanon is headed by a government close to Syrian and Iranian political positions and, therefore, a new civil war will damage the reliability of their political and military ally the Hezbollah. In fact, the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon would only benefit for a short period to Syria: a civil war in Lebanon would shift the attention from the current crisis in Syria, by transforming it into a question of regional and international security and stability. However, the objective of the main actors of the international community, including Iran and Russia, is to keep Lebanon as an area of tensions but without serious risk, as it has happened over the last twenty years, following the Taif agreement which ended the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990).

Another reason is that the Lebanese people isn’t willing to destroy his country after fifteen years of conflict and twenty other of reconstruction: despite sporadic killings at the border of Lebanon by the Syrian army and the high number of Syrian refugees, between 2011 and 2012, Lebanon is facing a period of greater stability and security compared to the period 2004-2006, that is to say the years of the Cedar Revolution and the third Israeli-Lebanese war. And, finally, only a conflict between Lebanon and Israel would allow the regime of Bashar al-Assad to “catch his breath”, to reshuffle the cards in the international community.

GIACOMO MORABITO

University of Messina