The current political stalemate and terrorist events crippling Lebanon push once more the country into a deeper fragile state. The Syrian conflict, the uncontrollable spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq, and the recent threats of ISIS to Lebanon are all instilling more fear causing people to wonder whether ISIS will truly spread to their streets and how Lebanon will be affected.
The Lebanese political arena has always been divided and sectarian due to its quota system. Although the people have become complacent to such internal institutional paralysis because of unsustainable and shifting alliances, today it might no longer be the case. ISIS’ threat to the country might as well be the one catalyst to solve pending issues.
Lebanon’s political system has breached the democratic process with an unpopular move, whereby its Parliament, extended its mandate by itself for yet another 17 months. The presidency finds itself void of a president since May 25th with Parliament not being able to create an allied majority long enough to elect him.
With a mosaic sectarian power sharing arrangement among Lebanon’s political factions, the divide was further accentuated after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. A March 14th bloc led by former Prime Minister Saad Haririr, son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and a March 8th bloc led by Hezbollah, backed by Iran, as the most formidable military force in the country.
Alongside to the targeted assassinations of politicians, Lebanon has recurrently witnessed random attacks, clashes in its mountains and borders, violence in its North, instability in Tripoli, and a recurrent breach of its airspace. Yet never was such a threat felt in the streets of Down Town Beirut, Lebanon’s most vibrant city, targeting civilians and in the surrounding areas of a security Shiite triangle controlled by Hezbollah, which is thought to be impenetrable to any sort of attack. The Lebanese political discourse, from both political blocs is always one of accusation, blaming and enflaming feelings of further division against the other camp. This is a scene that Lebanese have gotten used to, until a few weeks ago, when ISIS surfaced in Beirut and speeches have gone silent.
ISIS is not simply a threat to Iraq and Syria, but to the entire region. It is important to note that “Sham” as referred to by ISIS is based on an old Arab Map that further includes Lebanon. As such, Lebanon has officially become a target to the Al-Qaeda off-shoot with an online video and statement, stating that Lebanon, among other countries, will be ISIS’ target.
This imminent threat has undeniable internal repercussions on the current two blocs and is reshuffling positions. With Aoun opening a long gone channel of communication with Saad Hariri and Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Tripoli-based Salafi group, opposing the extremist Sunni current, reviving a Sunni-Shiit channel the rigid division seems to be getting loose.
As the Syria crisis unfolded, March 14th politicians blamed Hezbollah of bringing the war to Lebanese streets by sending fighters in support of Assad’s regime. The blame against Hezbollah is a chronic theme in March 14th politicians’ discourse particularly when it comes to its weapons. Yet today, there seems to be a tacit understanding that such an issue is no longer the main point of discussion, rather a silent nod that for now, these weapons and Hezbollah’s high security apparel can be actually of use. US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Beirut on June 4, 2014 “I call on… Iran, Russia, and I call on Hezbollah, based right here in Lebanon, to engage in a legitimate effort to bring this war to an end […]” no matter what type of engagement, the US officially calling for Hezbollah, is a shift in US’ known policy against the party.
Lebanon’s Patriarch Rai is constantly urging parliament to convene and decide on a head of a state sooner than later as the threat of ISIS grows by the day. Aoun made the headlines for a while as future president, yet parliament’s majority failed to meet at the time. Although he proposed on June 30, 2014, an alternative for the president be elected by the people, and not by parliament; this requires constitutional amendments, that is challenging to get. Yet, whether by parliament or through the people, as an ally of March 8th and his growing regional strategies with his rapprochement to Saudi Arabia Aoun might be the answer to the current raging fear. With a strong moderate Sunni as Prime Minister, Lebanon might find the needed balance to place itself in the political equation.
To better understand Lebanon’s politics, it is important to link its internal developments to regional players by further considering the rise of Iran as a regional reference and the re-election of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s moderate head of state, Iran’s strategic cooperation with the US to fight ISIS in Iraq, and the re-election of Bashar al-Assad as Syrian President, Hezbollah’s position might be stronger than before.
ISIS is a threat to the region with a plan of establishing a caliphate raising the flag of a Jihadist Islamic State, as broadcasted in their videos and channels on 30 June 2014. With ruthless strategies and inhumane wars, ISIS might be a key component in uniting the Arabs in a fight without borders. Enemies do cooperate in times requiring drastic measures and the interest in crushing ISIS is becoming common to all. This will likely push Lebanon to rise from its internal paralysis and put itself on the fighting front with both of its March 8th and 14th regional allies.
Published in L’Indro: http://www.lindro.it/isis-unira-i-libanesi/