Lebanon is a victim of itself and others. This small country seems constantly doomed to pay extortionate bills with its security and stability, and the blood of its sons. At best, it is obliged to live in a fragile and tense truce, deprived of true stability and lasting peace. The players differ, and the offenders vary, but the results are always the same. The country constantly teeters on the edge of the abyss, being pushed around by foreign interests and endless domestic conflicts. Internal coexistence remains fragile, and all parties operate under the principle of “no winners and no losers”, except Lebanon itself of course, which is helpless.
Lebanon is considered fair game because national unity exists there in name only. Sectarian tensions open Lebanon’s pores to anyone seeking to erode the nation, or to settle scores with others on its territory. Slogans are traded internally as national sovereignty is sold to third parties, and the fate of the country is placed in the hands of others. Lebanon has become a commodity in the auction of politics, and an open arena for the wars and conflicts of others. How many wars have taken place on Lebanese territory by remote control, how many assassinations have occurred through decisions from abroad, and how many murder files remain open, with the killers still unknown? Few are those who have sought to help Lebanon out of its ordeal, and many are those who want to keep it subject to their calculations, and a hotbed for their wars.
The assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, does not differ in its motives and objectives from many of the assassinations that have rocked Lebanon in the past. The intention was to instigate a shock, thus increasing tensions and further pushing the country towards a vacuum and sectarian strife, with the aim of creating a war or at least putting the country on the brink of it. There is something of a consensus that the timing of the crime and the choice of assassination target were intended to aggravate the internal situation as much as possible, which has remained tense ever since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, with tensions further increasing as a result of the Syrian crisis. Many see a link between the assassination of Brigadier General al-Hassan and the arrest of former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha, who was detained before carrying out his task and who confessed to receiving orders from Damascus. In both cases, the intention was to aggravate the internal situation and transfer the Syrian war onto Lebanese territory. Lebanon remains the weakest link among Syria’s neighbors, and hence the easiest to exploit. There are Lebanese allies, agents and clients ready to line up behind Damascus and expand the arena of conflict, in order to relieve the pressure on the Syrian regime and complicate regional and international calculations, especially since the fall of the al-Assad regime would be a blow to Tehran and would weaken Hezbollah. In this regard we have seen a growing escalation on the Turkish-Syrian border, attempts to move the tension to Jordan and Iraq, and we can also include the timing of the drone launched over Israel, which Hezbollah claimed responsibility for.
The wise in Lebanon were quick to contain the anger that erupted after the assassination of al-Hassan, so that the crime would not achieve its planned objectives and Lebanon would not descend into war. But the problem remains how to respond, and should the government resign or be dismissed? If the government stepped down what would be the alternative, and would this alternative be able to operate in light of the political polarization and sectarian tensions?
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said he will not hold onto his position because he believes his sect is being targeted, he senses its anger, and he cannot bear the responsibility for al-Hassan’s blood. But even this resignation, which would seem natural in any other country going through what Lebanon is going through, does not seem easy to agree upon, even among allies. While many believe that the resignation is the least the Prime Minister can do, there are also those who believe that this will not solve the problem and will only add more confusion and complexity, and may lead the country towards a vacuum, particularly as the formation of an alternative government will face obstacles from forces allied with Damascus. In turn, this vacuum could increase sectarian tensions and end up igniting the situation, which would mean that Wissam al-Hassan’s assassins would have finally achieved their goal. In light of this complex picture, a government of national unity remains a distant dream, because such a government, even if it was formed by some miracle, will never succeed if Lebanon itself is not united. It will never succeed if there is no consensus on Lebanese sovereignty, and if Lebanese politicians are not united in their rejection of foreign interference, and distanced from such influences.
Is there a solution?
The sad answer is that there is no real solution in sight as long as Lebanon remains internally divided, and as long as sectarian tension prevails. Many Lebanese citizens value loyalty to their sect over loyalty to their homeland, and they seek to make alliances abroad instead of fortifying the domestic situation and strengthening the unity of their country and the independence of its decisions. People today are calling, just as they called after other assassinations or crises, for a salvation government, or for another round of national dialogue, but this will only help to treat the wounds; it will not cure the underlying disease. The Lebanese must be honest with themselves and recognize that the current constitutional formula needs to be reviewed, because it does not solve the problem of sectarianism, rather it legitimizes it, and it does not strengthen national unity, rather it weakens it. In a country with 18 officially recognized sects, there is a need to do everything possible to enhance assimilation between groups and strengthen national unity. There is a need for a frank discussion about whether sectarian quotas in their current form have actually succeeded in protecting the country and safeguarding its unity, or if they have actually consecrated sectarianism there, and made the country vulnerable to foreign interference and an arena for the wars of others.
The problem of Lebanon will only be resolved when the Lebanese behave like Lebanese, regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Shiite, Maronite or Orthodox, Druze or Alawite, Armenian or Assyrian. In the absence of this, the country will never know genuine stability or lasting peace, and it will continue to be sacrificed at the hands of its sons and the hands of others.