Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Eyad Abu Shakra

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Who Has Priority in Lebanon... a President or a Republic?

Amid the persistent confusion in the Lebanese political situation, some local parties continue to suggest that deciding on a president is the desired solution. However, electing the president does not mean much and the republic is eroding and dissolving day after day.

Undoubtedly, the election of the president will constitute a positive dose, especially if the concerned parties - internally, regionally and internationally - are able to agree, even implicitly, on the future framework and role of Lebanon, and if the difficulties that have prevented filling the presidential vacuum since the end of October 2022 are overcome.

These obstacles - and their entanglements at the regional level - are well known to the concerned parties who are currently represented by the ambassadors of the Quintet Committee (the United States, France, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar).

Here, of course, it is inevitable to add a new factor to the complexities of the Lebanese situation. The “Gaza displacement war” and its consequences, which include:

First: The escalation of ferocious Israeli aggression sparked by the Hamas attack in the Gaza Strip. There are those who say today that unless the current Israeli “war government” falls through a serious rift between its president, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (and his bloc of 5 representatives), leading to the holding of new elections... there will be no way to contain the boisterous forces deeply rooted in the extremism that Netanyahu relies on.

Second: The fever of the Iranian “unity of arenas” project may have cooled somewhat, but Tehran is still capable of negotiating with Washington by fire and drones along the Lebanese-Israeli border. This destructive “negotiation” amid an American “presidential election year” has had a number of repercussions:

1- The tragedy of displacement from South Lebanon.

2- An increase in the “radicalism” of the residents of the northern Israeli settlements and their enthusiasm for a military solution.

3- Mounting political and security pressures on Arab countries, whether surrounding Israel or facing Iran in the Gulf region.

4- A better chance for former US president and prospective Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to outbid a Democratic president who is besieged on the one hand by supporters of Israel in Congress... and on the other by its opponents among the youth of America’s universities.

Third: “Internal displacement” in Lebanon from the border areas targeted by Israeli bombing coincides with campaigns to return refugees and displaced Syrians “voluntarily” (!). These calls are in fact based mainly on sectarian considerations and calculations, but they are reinforced today by a pressing economic and living reality.

Last week, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah made his contribution, proposing to push Syrian refugees and displaced persons to Europe, thus completing the “demographic mission” undertaken by Tehran, starting with Iraq (after 2003) and passing through Syria (after 2011) to redraw the Arab Levant map, perhaps through an intersection of interests with Israel’s “transfer” projects. These are interests that observers fear will not stop at Gaza, but will include the West Bank, and may extend to the “alternative homeland” plan!

Fourth: It may be difficult to count the accumulation of dangerous regional complexities in the current circumstances. It does not seem logical to ignore the possibility of slipping into catastrophic, uncalculated “scenarios.” At the same time, it may also not be wise - at least for Washington - to postpone defusing the violence until after the US presidential elections, in which Trump’s victory may open the door to all possibilities.

Therefore, the countries represented by the Quintet Committee are seeking to address the Lebanese situation, taking into account all the factors affecting the fabric of the country and its reality, but in the end, they do not hold all the cards.

The two non-Arab parties, namely the United States and France, have so far adopted a flexible approach towards Tehran’s policies in the region, and have preferred to coexist with its regional tools, in order to avoid an open war with no boundaries.

On the other hand, despite the limited “punitive” American strikes against Iran, the leadership in Tehran believes that the blackmail strategy it has adopted, and controlled its momentum according to need, is a strategy that has proven successful. On this basis, it sees that there is absolutely no need to abandon it.

Most of the American and French initiatives towards Lebanon since late 2022, when dealing with the issues of the presidency and the army, in particular, deliberately avoided addressing with the reality of the “mini state that is stronger than the state,” preferring instead to focus on resolving fleeting problems and resorting to temporary remedies while waiting for circumstances to change.

But regional developments helped maintain that reality, and even accelerated the collapse of the “state” in favor of the “mini state.” The reluctance to impose a permanent and just political solution by the ruling Israeli right has increased the “credibility” of the Tehran axis. Leniency towards Iran and its proxies has encouraged the Israeli right to become stubborn, escalate, and undermine all chances for peace and stability in the region.