Official silence in Lebanon after US strike on Syria
Eerie silence. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) speaks with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini at an EU Syria conference in Brussels, on April 5. (AFP)
2017/04/16 Issue: 102 Page: 11
The Arab Weekly
Beirut - It is perfectly normal to expect Lebanon to be affected by the political fallout of the US attack on al-Shayrat airfield in Syria. Most analyses consider the attack a catalyst for a likely Russian-Iranian pact and a blow to efforts towards settling the Syrian crisis.
In Lebanon, reactions to the US strike were contradictory. News of the strike set social media pages of people from various political parties and orientations ablaze but official political circles observed an incongruous, deafening silence. The government and the parliament were busy discussing oil and electricity, election law and the budget.
Assem Qanso, a member of parliament from the Lebanese Ba’ath Party, said: “US President Donald Trump’s stand on the Palestinian cause and other Arab causes was vague except for his direct bias towards Israel, which convinced him to adopt anti-Syrian stands.”
Appealing to his experience as a medical doctor, MP Assem Araji from the Future Party parliamentary bloc asserted that “the weapon used on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun is chemical without a doubt. All the symptoms on the victims confirm that.”
Given that fact, “the new US administration under Trump, which has always trumpeted its intention to change [former President Barack] Obama’s legacy, had to react quickly and violently,” Araji said.
Araji said he feared “a new migration wave of Syrian refugees especially to the Bekaa area.” He also said that Iran is likely to escalate the situation in Lebanon and might “push the country towards a parliamentary crisis after it had caused a presidential crisis, which had lasted for two-and-a-half years. Continuing to block the new election law is part of the campaign calling for a constitutional convention.”
For Araji, if the plan for a constitutional convention becomes a reality “all red lines would have been crossed… Those refusing the plan will have no choice but to fight it by any means necessary.” He said tensions created by the US strike should not “hinder the path of settlements in Lebanon and lure Hezbollah towards creating conditions favourable for a constitutional convention, which incidentally will not be in its best interest.”
Araji invited Hezbollah to revisit Lebanon’s history and not to overestimate its capacity to influence political decisions in the country. Even if the party succeeds in controlling national decisions, “such control will only be temporary and transient,” Araji continued.
Hareth Sleiman, a professor at the Lebanese University, said the fallout from the US strike “will depend on Iran’s reaction to the strike because it seems that there were Iranian elements stationed at al- Shayrat airfield.
“The intended escalation seems to be directed against Iran and not the Russians because the Russians do not wish to get into a confrontation with the Americans and vice versa.”
Sleiman pointed out that an Iranian reaction will spare Lebanon because there are no US interests to target there. If Iran is planning a reaction, it is likely to take place in Iraq, where there are about 6,000 US soldiers, or in Syria.
He said talk about stability and settlements in Lebanon is “one aspect of the efforts to veil Hezbollah’s total domination of public affairs in Lebanon. The prospects of an escalation are meaningless because no one really wishes to confront Hezbollah and Hezbollah, in turn, does not wish to make things difficult for itself.”
Sleiman dismissed analyses concluding that Iran’s reaction might push Hezbollah to insist on a constitutional convention in Lebanon. He said: “Hezbollah does not need to rely on a constitutional convention because all of Lebanon’s active security agencies are functioning according to its agenda. The same applies to the military court and intelligence services.”
Political analyst Lokman Slim refuted the hypotheses that the US action in Syria is part of an American strategy to shuffle cards in Syria. He said it is too early to draw any conclusions about its consequences, pointing out that “as long as the resistance axis remains silent, things should not go beyond the level of learning lessons.”
He said: “To hit al-Shayrat airfield near Homs, the American missiles must have crossed Lebanese airspace. Nobody could turn them back nor did the missiles need a visa. Some Lebanese might have been elated by having US missiles fly over their heads.”
The remarkable silence of the Lebanese political leadership is “a sign of a crisis among the Sunni and Christian leaderships in particular,” he said.