Lebanon gears up to fight Islamic State

Published September 22nd, 2014 - 12:17 GMT

Lebanon’s political factions are mobilizing to face the security threat posed by extremist groups, catapulting the country into a transitional phase, diplomatic sources told The Daily Star. According to sources, a heated debate is underway on both political and security levels.

On the political front, communication was instigated by the head of the Future Movement, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is expected to hold a meeting soon with Speaker Nabih Berri. The two will hammer out an agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has also been active, engaging with Christian leaders and other political factions.

This political activity comes amid a volatile security situation in Lebanon, which began in early August, when five-day clashes pitted the army against Nusra Front and ISIS militants in Arsal.

The army’s plan, to equip troops and mobilize them in the fight against the militants, has been finalized. Arsal’s Mayor Ali Hujeiri raised the issue of deploying more army troops in the border town last week.

The atmosphere in Arsal has been tense since the clashes, as at least 21 soldiers and policemen are being held hostage by the militants.

ISIS has killed two soldiers, while the Nusra Front killed its first soldier, Mohammad Hammieh, Friday.

On the issue of the presidency, diplomatic sources said efforts to push for presidential and parliamentary elections are static, without any progress being made.

Lebanon has been without a head of state after President Michel Sleiman’s six-year tenure ended on May 25.

Sources said that the “American player” or the United States, has much influence in how the situation in the region will play out, especially if it heads the international mission to end ISIS. The U.S. is also the only party in the international arena capable of imposing specific rules for the political game in Lebanon, and eventually, a consensus candidate.

U.S. influence is especially strong because it can produce necessary compromises in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Everyone knows the important role Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, wields in the region.

The Daily Star has also been informed that Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has also heard similar talk from Russian officials. Machnouk was recently on a visit to Moscow to discuss renewed military cooperation between Lebanon and Russia as part of a recent $1 billion Saudi grant.

Russian officials have put much emphasis on the need for Lebanon to organize its internal affairs in order to cope with the regional developments. The starting point for all this, according to the officials, is the election of a consensus president who is competent and in touch with current events.

Of course, this opens up questions as to Russia’s position on the correct candidate.

In this regard, sources concerned with the current political and diplomatic developments said there were talks aimed at readjusting Lebanon’s affairs to facilitate what they dubbed a “transitional phase.”

The aim of this phase is to help the country keep up with the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the emerging American-Arab alliance against ISIS. A president, even if only temporary, would be responsible for making sure Lebanon gets through the next few years with as little pain as possible.

This phase would also involve extending Parliament term’s again, this time for two years and seven months, and discussions over means to implement the remaining items of the Taif agreement, the peace accord that helped end the 15-year Lebanese Civil War. This second point is key because, despite numerous calls for the agreement to be amended through a constituent conference, Taif as a whole remains popular among all political factions.

The sources referred to Berri’s speech on the anniversary of the disappearance of Imam Musa Sadr and his colleagues, in which the speaker addressed this transitional phase and the full implementation of Taif accord and all its items.

Reference to a transitional phase also cropped up in a speech by the Higher Shiite Council deputy head, Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan, during the inauguration of Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian last week. Qabalan also stressed that arms should be limited to the government, a stipulation under Taif.

The sources pointed to what they described as a change in the Iranian position, which they said would be reflected in the policies of its allies in Lebanon and Syria.

According to the sources, Iran is now convinced that the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar Assad is no longer a key player on the international scene. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has championed participatory politics between the various Iraqi factions.

On this basis, the sources believe that Iran’s allies in Lebanon are analyzing the regional situation and its implications for Lebanon.

The sources attributed the relative decline in Iran’s regional role to the American decision that produced the Iraqi compromise and ongoing negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

They said Iran has provided concessions in order to move forward with the nuclear issue and reduce international penalties.

The sources stressed that the United States would now look to push Iran to abandon Assad without any negotiations by using the same strategy it did with former Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki. The U.S. has already been pressuring Iran by excluding it from the international coalition against ISIS due to its continued support for Assad.

By Antoine Ghattas Saab

 


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