Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Mustafa Fahs

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Lebanon Between Domestic Chaos and Regional Repercussions

Two crimes: the evidence from one seems to indicate that it had been the work of an intelligence service (Israel's Mossad), and the other seems like it had been perpetrated by an organized crime ring, but the evidence shows signs that it was political. We have not seen the circumstances and details of either crime explained clearly and transparently. The Lebanese banker Mohammed Surur, a member of Hezbollah who has been sanctioned by the US for facilitating the transfer of Iranian funds to Hamas, seems to have been assassinated by Mossad agents. Pascal Suleiman, a Lebanese Forces official, was killed by an organized auto-theft ring, according to the official narrative. The two incidents usher in a phase of chaos that could turn Lebanon into an arena for settling scores by domestic and foreign actors, leaving us unsure what to think or who to believe and fueling communal animosities that are in no need of rekindling.

The first crime shows that Israeli intelligence operates freely in Lebanon. It is not unlikely that they have a list of targets that includes members of Palestinian factions as well as Hezbollah officials. Tel Aviv has launched a campaign to eliminate everyone in Lebanon suspected of having played a role in the Al-Aqsa Flood assassination. It has already liquidated the Hamas official in Lebanon, Saleh al-Arouri, and probably intends to apply the Munich model, that is, to eliminate everyone who contributed to this operation. The Lebanese collective memory is brimming with dangerous Mossad attacks; from the Verdun raid of 1973 to the assassination of Ali Hassan Salameh and other Palestinian and Lebanese officials in 1979.

As for the second crime, the state’s narrative around it has yet to convince a segment of the Lebanese people. Many are skeptical because several grave crimes have been perpetrated in recent years - or only since the Beirut Port blast - including the assassinations of Lokman Slim, Joe Bejjani, Elias Al-Hasrouni, and now Pascal Suleiman. The investigations have not reached a conclusion that could help those who have remained in the judiciary file charges. Investigations of these crimes are either neglected, essentially shut down, or have been turned into proceedings against unknown persons. For the victims’ kin, however, this anonymous person is known. He is the primary suspect before investigations begin, as the public is convinced that no investigation will reach a conclusion if the crime could be politically motivated.

In a country divided along regional sectarian lines, it has become impossible to convince the victims’ families to acquit those whom they have accused, or to compel them to avoid making accusations before the investigations, especially when the suspect behaves in dubious ways. Because of this widespread mistrust and cases of fraud, the Lebanese have lost confidence in most state institutions, and they are now paying the price for these institutions’ absence, as their agencies have been paralyzed and decisions are not theirs to make. The reaction to the killing of Pascal Suleiman reveals how divorced Lebanese communities have become from one another and how profound the rejection of the other has become. Keeping coexistence in our hands is like trying to keep hold of burning coal.

Regionally, there is every indication that Iranian retaliation against Israel for the Damascus strike has become inevitable, threatening to destroy what remains of stability in Lebanon and the region. Regional risks have been heightened after the United States hinted at the possibility of taking part in Israel’s response to Iran’s retaliation.

That is enough for Tel Aviv. After US pressure has been removed, it is pushing to expand the confrontation regionally and turn the current war into a direct conflict with Iran, despite the dire regional consequences for everyone. Lebanon, both its state and its people, are hostage to the Israeli response to the Iranian response. The possibility of the skirmishes on the southern border or in the occupied Golan expanding will be determined by two factors: the first is the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement in Iran’s retaliation and the retaliation against it for that role, and the second is the extent of the US intervention and whether it will lift the restrictions it has imposed on Tel Aviv regarding the Lebanon front.

Regional and local signs point to domestic and foreign “fifth columns” seeking to undermine security, that is, to create chaos and stir conflict between different Lebanese communities and between the Lebanese and the Syrian refugees. Innocent and helpless civilians will be the primary victims, while masked figures will achieve their objectives, especially since all the Lebanese have become exposed and easy targets.