Is Lebanon Protected From Another Civil War?


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By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

In November 1989, the Lebanese Parliament approved and rectified the Taif Agreement, putting an end to 15 years of civil war. The Lebanese population believed for many years that the shadow of war had gone forever. Nevertheless, the dynamic of the internal politics in the country these last days and the dispute between the Shia Speaker Nabih Berry and the Christian Maronite Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil have revealed a fragile Lebanese political system, vulnerable to escalation, taking the country to a danger level. What makes this possible today is the combination of the US military presence in Syria, the Syrian war, the readiness of the countries of the Middle East to finance it and the omnipresent desire to hit Hezbollah and Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

Following the 2003 US occupation of Iraq, the interventionists learned another, less costly, way to run a war. In Syria, the countries of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself learned to fight their war through local proxies, ready to fight and sell their loyalty. Although superpower countries (the US and Russia) had to push their own forces onto the battlefield, in practice these took positions on the ground and in the air which avoided large numbers of casualties. In fact, the US forces’ casualties in Syria amount to only a few (4200 killed and 34000 wounded during the 2003 invasion of Iraq), whilst even Russia, heavily involved as it was on various fronts, registered less than 100 dead altogether, and this includes journalists and humanitarian workers. However, at the same time both superpowers are fighting and guiding locals and governmental forces and their allies in order to reach their desired objectives.

We can therefore say that, for a possible civil war in Lebanon to take shape, it needs parties committed to a clear objective, it needs finance to be available, and it needs locals ready to take up arms.

The objective:

The objective for a civil war in Lebanon is not lacking. Since Trump has been in power, his main goal has been to find ways to cripple Iran and its closest ally and partner, the Lebanese Hezbollah. The US President, to the disagreement and discomfort of his European partners, tried very hard to revoke the nuclear deal, managing (so far) only to create a localised storm. Simultaneously, the US establishment is imposing regular sanctions on the Lebanese Hezbollah, accusing the organization of drug smuggling, planning attacks overseas, being more dangerous than al-Qaeda- and much more. All these accusations aim to damage Hezbollah’s reputation, so far with little success because the organization is not a company with accounts abroad or with high profile military leaders travelling the world. The US campaign goes even further, attacking any wealthy Shia sympathizing with Hezbollah or offering a financial surplus contribution (Khoms) to the group.

Israel, however, would be delighted to see Hezbollah engaged in an internal conflict and losing its local support among the Christians. Hezbollah represents today the biggest threat to Israel in case of war, way beyond any possible menace al-Qaeda and the “Islamic State” (ISIS) group could represent. Hezbollah is an “irregular-organised” Army with an arsenal capable of inflicting serious damage on Israel’s infrastructure and population. Moreover, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria did not weaken it -as many countries around Lebanon had hoped. On the contrary, Hezbollah gathered unique warfare experience in all military tactics and its highly trained and experienced Special Forces increased in number and capability, enough to move to attack rather than defence in any future war with Israel. Israel would certainly be happy to offer all kinds of military support to any group willing to fight Hezbollah in Lebanon- and start a civil war.

As Israel has regularly trained, with the US forces, to face another war with Hezbollah, the Lebanese group is conducting similar training by constructing Israeli-like cities on the Lebanese-Syrian borders, to train its forces on how to occupy a very large area when and if Israel decides to attack Lebanon.

The Finance:

In the Middle East, there are many countries who tried but failed to make Lebanon submit to their rule and authority. The Prime Minister Saad Hariri was kidnapped by Saudi Arabia: during his trip to Riyadh, he accused Hezbollah and Iran of playing a negative and destructive role in Lebanon. More than one country in the Middle East would not spare any financial effort to see Hezbollah weakened.

The war in Syria proved that finance was not lacking and that the countries involved are ready to do anything to change the regime and the power dynamic in the country. Moreover, one of the main reasons why the Syrian government survived all these seven years of war was due to Hezbollah and Iran’s response to the government’s call for help, preventing the fall of Damascus and other main cities. Hezbollah militants secured the Lebanese-Syrian borders and strongly contributed on the ground to give the upper hand to the Syrian Army over ISIS, al-Qaeda and their allies, dismantling the interventionists’ plans to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

The Locals:

Observers in Lebanon described the attempt of the Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil to divide Hezbollah from Amal as “naïve and lacking intelligence”. The relationship between the two Shia groups is so much deeper and more important for both sides than Bassil and the organisation he represents.

What minister Bassil ignores is the fact that only due to the Speaker Nabih Berri was Hezbollah able to raise its flag in some villages in the south of Lebanon- in places where Hezbollah was not even allowed even to bury its militants until very recently.

Bassil doesn’t understand the internal dynamic among the Shia in Lebanon and how both leaders, Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, are ready to give up anything and anyone to keep their healthy unity.

For many years Hezbollah has rejected any demand by members of the “Amal Movement” to join Hezbollah (so as to avoid tension), and made sure that the Hezbollah alliance with Bassil’s father-in-law (President Michel Aoun) stops at the doors of Berri.

According to these observers, Bassil is showing Hezbollah that a Christian leader who can influence the population is much more dangerous than a hostile Lebanese President. Hence, the Foreign Minister has ended any possibility of himself becoming President one day. The price of Bassil’s aim to collect more Christian votes in the forthcoming election turns out very high, and Hezbollah’s commitment to President Aoun will certainly not be extended to his son-in-law, the Foreign Minister.

According to observers, Bassil (wrongly) believes himself ready to open up to Middle Eastern and Western countries willing to destroy Hezbollah, and to use these to balance his relationship with Hezbollah.

Lebanon is still dominated by warlords, starting from the Christians leaders (President Aoun, Kataeb Gemayel family, “Lebanese Forces” Samir Geagea) to the Speaker (Nabih Berri) to the Druse Leader (Walid Jumblat), and many other personalities still dominating the country and key positions. This balance is the one keeping Lebanon away from a possible civil war. If this balance is destabilised, Lebanon is then fertile territory for becoming another Syria, and the Muslim sectarian enmity surrounding it is definitely the icing on the Lebanese cake.

If destabilised, Lebanon could become fertile ground for the same suffering Syria has been experiencing for seven years now – due to the harsh sectarian enmity omnipresent in the Middle East since the birth of the “Islamic State” in Iraq until today

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