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Contradictory Strategies for Achieving Sovereignty and Stability in Lebanon

From political disarray to economic crisis, and substandard human rights to alarming border violence, chaos proliferates in Lebanon. Key security policies, such as the UN’s SCR 1701 and Taif Accords, are mired in contradiction and rendered inadequate by US inaction and external strain. Lebanon must take action from within in order to save the jeopardized country.
Lebanon building

BEIRUT, LEBANON – NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – View of the Parliament of Lebanon building. © Stock Photos 2000 /

June 14, 2024 04:30 EDT

In 2019, a Ponzi scheme, operated for years by Lebanon’s Central Bank, commercial banks, and politicians, triggered economic collapse. Since then, Lebanon has grappled with a profound recession. More than half of the population is below the poverty line. The state is not equipped to assist the poor, and most go without aid. Essential services like electricity and education are deteriorating. In 2020, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored improperly in a warehouse in the capital, Beirut, exploded, killing over 200 people. The blast literally rocked the entire country, but the authorities have still not identified those responsible. 

Citizens are angry, and in response, the state has cracked down on free expression, using criminal defamation laws to punish those who complain. Meanwhile, the government is in a state of paralysis. Twelve sessions of voting in parliament have failed to elect a new president since Michel Aoun’s mandate expired in 2022.

To make matters worse, war is brewing to the south. Ever since the Israel–Hamas war started in October 2023, hostilities along the border between Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have mounted.

To make a long matter short, Lebanon is in crisis, and something must be done. 

Current prescriptions for Lebanon

Everyone, of course, is full of ideas on how to solve the crisis. Few realize how many contradictions their recommendations involve. “Sovereignty and stability” are the watchwords.

Nearly everyone agrees there must be détente between the various, sometimes warring, political factions in Lebanon in order to elect a new president and make the accompanying government changes. They further agree on the United Nations’ 1989 Taif Accords and the UN’s 2006 Security Council Resolution 1701. These two diplomatic documents aim to promote order in Lebanon by detailing power-sharing among various factions and outlining the responsibility of the Lebanese Army (LAF) and the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) to maintain security and secure Lebanon’s borders. In April 2022, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) added another plan for recovery when it reached a staff-level agreement for economic reform with Lebanon. Yet despite the consensus, efforts have been fruitless.

It is not clear that effective efforts are even possible. The situation on the Israeli border is rapidly deteriorating, with over 90,000 people internally displaced. It is not likely that internal reforms are on the government’s agenda at all when Lebanon’s territorial integrity and state functionality are in question.

External relations with the US, Hezbollah and Israel

Externally, Lebanon is unable to control or even positively influence its relationships with the many outside powers who seek to influence Lebanese policy. Chief among those actors are Iran and the US. Iranian and American influence on Lebanon, whether good or ill-intentioned, has not caused any palpable improvement in Lebanon’s situation.

Many Lebanese ascribe Lebanon’s ills to the machinations of Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group, and its patron, Iran. The recent cross-border violence between Hezbollah and Israel is seen as an existential threat to Lebanon, and some believe Lebanon may consequently become a victim of the “cleansing” Israel is visiting upon Palestinians. Furthermore, Lebanese believe that Israel, thanks to US support, faces little opposition to its posture of deterrence through preponderant destruction in Lebanon. 

Then there is the US, which is cast as both the savior and tormentor of Lebanon. Through its relationships with the LAF and ISF, the US has affirmed and worked to bolster their status as the first defenders of Lebanon. Unfortunately, US reluctance to act to rein in the excesses of the IDF, violent settlers, and the extremist cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tars the US as the abettor of Lebanon’s looming potential destruction. Additionally, the US seems to be shirking some of its ability to aid Lebanon by using SCR 1701 to place unworkable responsibility on the LAF.

On the one hand, voices in the US Congress and government remind the Lebanese that SCR 1701 places relatively clear guidelines on the central role of the LAF in stabilizing Lebanon. They raise the topic whenever appropriations are allocated or the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is annually renewed. On the other hand, the US insists that the LAF follow civilian leadership and respect Lebanon’s laws. This requirement severely undermines the LAF’s power because that same civilian leadership obstructs it from maintaining borders and ensuring peace. Whether the theater is violence on the Lebanon–Israel border or dealing with armed militias, the LAF and ISF are routinely barred from carrying out their increasingly complex responsibilities. 

Despite the inconsistencies in America’s role, many Lebanese believe that only the US holds the power to keep Lebanon together. Just this week, LAF commander General Joseph Aoun visited the US to meet with senior Pentagon officials and discuss possible solutions to the border violence. Aoun’s visit reinforced the perception that US support is critical. Still, while the intentions behind the talks were good, it remains to be seen whether the US will take action.

Military leadership and complex foreign dynamics

Many Lebanese are calling for the LAF to corral Hezbollah in order to avoid provoking Israel. The Quintet (the US, Qatar, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt), too, is pushing for the LAF to keep a short leash on Hezbollah pursuant to SCR 1701. (For example, just this June, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the implementation of SCR 1701 in order to temper escalations on the Lebanese–Israeli border.)

Iran, on the other hand, wants Hezbollah to put pressure on Israel. Could the West and Iran be pushing the LAF and Hezbollah into a civil war — one in which the LAF is outgunned? How far will the US go to support Israel?

How does one balance the Abraham Accords — a US declaration affirming the importance of cooperatively maintaining peace in the Middle East — with the deterioration in US public support for a solution that sidelines Palestine?

How long can Saudi Arabia and others tolerate rogue behavior by Israel that may affect their regional priorities?

The dynamics of this region are as fraught as ever, and divided Lebanon seems to be caught in the middle of it all. Amid the turmoil, Lebanon might turn to a military leader. Officers have taken presidential office four times since 1958. Lebanon tends to rely on the military when no political consensus emerges. An article in Al Majalla last year detailed how each case of general-turned-president was in response to a particular crisis or crises. 

Currently, there is a buzz about electing Aoun as president. To many, he seems the only option left as politicians who lack the motivation to sacrifice their personal agendas for Lebanon’s sake fail to compromise.

This presidential crisis is nearly two years old now. The rest of the region has better things to do than abet a continuation of dysfunctional Lebanese politics. While members of the Quintet, particularly the US and France, have made recent proposals to cease hostilities in Lebanon, they have more urgent business than holding Beirut by the hand. Clashes on the Lebanese-Israeli border continue to escalate. Lebanon must take the lead.

[India Wenner edited this piece]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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