This step was expected to arouse anger, and it has already sparked a major controversy in the country. In addition to Arab opposition to Lebanon’s breach of the Gulf countries’ official agreement on Syria, this step has a more complex dimension for Lebanon and the Lebanese because of their chaotic past and stormy present with Syria.
The relations with Bashar Assad’s regime, which is accused of committing war crimes against his people, are particularly sensitive, as the regime itself previously occupied Lebanon and has a long history of interfering in Lebanon’s security, politics and economy. The judiciary has recently revealed that the Syrian regime was behind two huge explosions that rocked two mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in 2013. Former Minister Michel Samaha was jailed in 2016 for smuggling explosives into Lebanon from Syria, again on the orders of the Assad regime. The Syrian regime has not changed any of its old policies on Lebanon, the Lebanese people and the region; quite the opposite, it is still bloodily carrying on the same path, supported by Tehran and Moscow.
Indeed, Assad’s regime is taking advantage of the progress achieved by the axis that protected and kept him in power despite all its massacres. It is also taking advantage of its men in positions of authority in Lebanon, whether by the power of Hezbollah’s weapons or a president who is allied to its axis.
Nevertheless, broad political and popular groups are not pleased with this situation.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri is trying to depict his approval of the appointment of the ambassador to Damascus as a procedural matter, and not political normalization. He made sure to highlight his negative stance toward the Assad regime.
Amid this controversy, other issues related to Syria are progressing, especially in terms of ensuring the safe return of refugees to Syria, which cannot be achieved without coordination with the Assad regime — which either ignores the issue, or insists that Syria’s social fabric has been improved by the departure of the refugees and that they would not be welcomed back.
Some believe that Hariri is just predicting the inevitable, which suggest that a comprehensive settlement is on its way to the region. This settlement is built on dividing influence based on military presence in the region. Thus, Moscow, the Syrian regime’s main sponsor along with Tehran, needs to guarantee Syria’s unity — even if it is a fabricated one.
There are many who want to normalize relations with the Assad regime, but they appear to have forgotten the lessons of the past.
The West and Israel can no longer call for Assad’s departure, and although Iran may have started the Syrian crisis, Tehran believes that it should be in control because it is one of Assad’s main sponsors and because it fought against Daesh. Therefore, Iran wants a share in the new Syria through establishing military bases in the country, and perhaps through reconstruction projects.
In these complex circumstances, some in Lebanon seek to normalize relations with Syria, but they do not seem to realize that the main participants in the Syrian war have not put down their weapons — and they are not likely to do so soon. They have also forgotten that Lebanon has been on the receiving end of violence from the Syrian regime and its sponsors in the past.
Therefore, it seems that recent talks about Lebanon taking part in Syria’s reconstruction projects are hopeless.
Indeed, it is difficult to predict what will happen in Syria in the next six months, but those taking part in the conflict will not put their weapons down, so it appears that the ambitions of some in Lebanon regarding Lebanese-Syrian relations are facing a dead end.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. Twitter: @dianamoukalled