Wednesday 23 May 2012

Abductions in Syria raise Lebanon suspense

The Lebanese women were flown back to Beirut
overnight (Photo by Haitham Mousawi for al-Akhbar)

What’s wrong in Lebanon?
Someone apparently asked Siri the same question on her iPhone 4S.
She later tweeted:

I don’t own an iPhone and I don’t plan asking Siri.
My short answer to “wassup in Lebanon” is: “Here are the pointers, so draw your own conclusions.”
The pointers:
=== The bad news is that Syrian rebels Tuesday abducted 11 Lebanese Shiite men and their Syrian bus driver in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on their way back from a religious trip to Iran. Women traveling in the group were allowed to go free and flown back to Beirut overnight.
=== The good news is that Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, who usually speaks for Syria, expects the men to be released “within hours, according to information provided by an Arab country.” Earlier, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who strongly backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, appealed for calm. At the same time, former Sunnite premier Saad Hariri, who leads the anti-Assad opposition in Lebanon, strongly denounced the abduction “of our Lebanese brothers in Syria” and called for the men’s “immediate release.”
=== The bad news is that Michel Aoun, head of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc and who Assad crowned leader of the Orient’s Christians, Tuesday came out in support of the May 17 letter by Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The letter depicts Lebanon as a Taliban-infested Afghanistan, its eastern and northern regions as the hills and caves of Tora Bora and its seaport city of Tripoli as Kandahar (see my May 19 post). Aoun told reporters Ja’afari “has data and does not lie.”
=== The good news is that Lebanon’s pro- and anti-Assad political factions Wednesday welcomed Saudi King Abdullah’s call for national dialogue to help steer Lebanon clear of regional turmoil, chiefly in Syria. The monarch said in a letter to President Michel Suleiman: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia follows with great concern developments in Tripoli, mainly the targeting of one of the main sects in the Lebanese communal fabric…
“Considering the gravity of the crisis and the possibility of its relapse into sectarian sedition – reviving, God forbid, the specter of civil war -- we look forward to Your Excellency’s wisdom, hoping you would intervene to end the crisis by initiating a national dialogue in keeping with your eagerness to dissociate Lebanon from external conflicts, particularly from the Syrian crisis next door.”
=== The bad news is that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today told a televised news conference in Moscow the Syrian conflict might spread to Lebanon. "Now, there is a real risk that the conflict may start spilling over into Lebanon where, given the historical context, the ethnic and religious make-up of the population, as well as the principles that Lebanon rests on, things may end badly indeed.”
Editorially, Lebanese political analyst Abdelwahhab Badrakhan says Lebanon’s current predicament was expected.
Detachment from events in Syria, he writes today for Beirut’s an-Nahar, was “neither Lebanon’s choice nor decision.”
The Lebanese government’s avowed policy of “self-distancing” itself from the Syria crisis was the upshot of Damascus’ quest “for breathing space from international sanctions.” It was also the upshot of Iran’s need to ease Hezbollah’s burden in running the country. The result was a period of quasi-stability that earned the Beirut government cautious, but uncertified, praise.
Badrakhan says, “Only a strong and independent government can self-distance itself from whatever is prejudicial to Lebanese interests – but not a government submissive to the Syrian regime and fearful of the regime’s Lebanese tentacles inside and outside state institutions.”
Badrakhan recalls that within days of Foreign Minister Mansour confiding the government had “disappointed” Damascus, Ja’afari was accusing Lebanon of harboring terrorists and arms smugglers and “a Lebanese army checkpoint sought to ‘assuage’ Syria’s disappointment.”
He says the killing of two sheikhs at an army checkpoint in Akkar and the way anti-Assad activist Shadi Mawlawi was arrested in Tripoli were probably the beginning of something more sinister.
According to Badrakhan, “Renewed talk of insubordinate (security) elements brings to mind similar 1975 (civil war) scenarios… In the 37 years since, it does not seem like the army has fortified the state. Nor has the army build up muscle to protect the state. What took place in Tripoli and Akkar, then Beirut, is not as alarming as making the Lebanese deem a return to civil war likely because the state and the army are threatened.”
Why then this frenetic drive to inflame and detonate?
Simply because the Syrian regime is dispirited by its treatment at the hands of international players, “save for Russia and China.” Damascus feels accepting Annan’s plan, and proving it remained in control of the situation, went unrewarded… Still, the players are not relenting. In view of that, says Badrakhan, Damascus decided to poke around in Lebanon while telling the international players, “Talk to me. Otherwise, I will destabilize and destroy Lebanon.”