If you spend time admiring the charming lights on the seaside of Zaitonay Bay in Beirut, it is easy to forget how fragile Lebanon is, in a Middle East that is on the edge of collapsing.
Wondering about the future of Lebanon may turn out to be an easy task in fact. To summarize, three are the most relevant threats that Lebanon is facing: the internal consequences of the Syrian civil conflict; the pressure by ISIS and other radical groups on the Lebanese frontiers and the further growing relevance of Hezbollah, not only in southern Lebanon; the vacuum in Lebanon’s political system.
When addressing the first contingency, there is to notice that the ideological fragmentation and radicalization in Lebanon make up the ideal environment for collateral, dangerous, escalations. The Syrian war has not only spread its flows of refugees towards Lebanon, therefore adding tension, but it has also exacerbated the attacks in the Shiite community. The one million refugees, mainly settled in the Northern and Eastern part of the Bekaa Valley, the Alawite condition, increasingly menaced by the Sunni community in the close districts of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al Tabbaneh, are all elements that add tension to the comprehensive framework, worsened by the incidents at the border between Lebanon and Israel.
Hezbollah has been developing a new approach, given the role it has assumed as the real “fighting force” in Lebanon. Its struggle in setting a new sort of confrontation with Israel in the areas of Muhaybib and Shaqra, as Tel Aviv is increasing its incursions, pairs with its involvement in the Syrian conflict as an ally of Damascus against the Sunni rebellion, has upgraded its status. Even if the Lebanese Armed Forces are receiving a considerable amount of materials, training and funds from the United States and other Western countries, Hezbollah is still considered the most capable, tactically and strategically speaking, not to mention its fast intervention ability. However, its inclusion in 2013 in EU’s terrorist organization (means no international appreciation and declared hostility) and the critical polarization in the very heart of the Lebanon society could bring to a widespread opposition to Nasrallah’s Front. In addition, the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) cannot exert an active role and it even risks being a victim.
The main problem is in any case the vacuum not only in the post of presidency of the Republic (vacant since 25th May 2015) but also in the Parliament and broadly speaking in the completely Lebanese political landscape. The national unity government of Tammam Salam, formed on 15th February 2014, has been unable to stop the friction between the parties. Sometimes seems that the Civil War (1975-1990) and the persistent violent attitude and intrusion in Lebanese affairs, that brought to the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, are just a pale remind of the past. Things, nonetheless, did not considerably changed. The political inability in presenting a cohesive front against what is perceived as a common threat, Sunni radicalism and jihadist movements, if not stopped, could bring Lebanon to an unpredictable brink of generalized confusion and internal conflict.
Moderate Sunni parties and Christian movements do not want to ultimately exacerbate the climate nor do they aim to give a total free pass to Hezbollah as the only armed capable force in Lebanon able to dictate and manage the political and defense agenda. Prioritizing the role of the Armed Forces and trying to find a common solution in order to arrive to new President is an important step, but not a decisive one. A new perspective towards external and internal threats to Lebanon could come only through a decisive collaboration between the moderate fronts in the religious wings of Lebanese social and political movements.
Research fellow at Iran Progress