The Lebanese are now merely passing time while international strategies around conflict intersect and conceal themselves, as the players wait to agree on the lowest common denominator for a new world order. Before tackling the regional disorder from which one goes to deal with what is happening in Lebanon, let us look at the confusion encountered by three of the world’s most influential blocs.
A year ago, the US went from living under one of the most liberal/leftist administrations in its history to one that could be described as the most right-wing. Despite the US political system being based on checks and balances, the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president pointed to structural changes in the country’s social and political concepts, or so it seemed in November 2008.
In November 2016, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction with the election of Donald Trump. He is an ultra-conservative Republican and a businessman who came from outside the political establishment, fought the primaries against the Republicans’ traditional leaders, and was never elected to any political office.
His election pointed to yet another change in the public mood, if not America’s political culture. Moving from the extreme left to the extreme right uncovered a deep rift among a nation of immigrants, which after enjoying ever-increasing strength thanks to its diversity, has become averse to openness, tolerance and welcoming others.
What we have witnessed in America has also happened in Western Europe, where strident globalization was met with long-dormant racism that has rediscovered its voice and self-confidence.
With this phenomenon, people seem to have forgotten the disasters that nationalist and ethnic extremism caused in Europe in the 20th century, including the rise of Nazism and fascism, and later the Balkan crises in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and the Berlin Wall.
In Asia — home to China and India, the world’s two most populous nations — complicated problems are becoming even worse against a background of diverging interests and different calculations, whether over a nuclear North Korea or the conflict over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, in addition to the problems of the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar and East Turkestan (Chinese Xinjiang).
The pre-occupations of these three major blocs were bound to have repercussions on the Middle East. Such a reality has helped three well-organized regional powers — Israel, Iran and Turkey — flex their muscles and compete for regional hegemony, or failing that, benefit from apportionment.
There is international collusion with this occupation, providing it with a veneer of constitutional legitimacy.
Eyad Abu Shakra
America’s unshakable support for Israel is not new, but has been further enhanced by Trump’s official seal of approval to the old Congress vote recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Washington has politically sponsored and militarily aided Israel for seven decades.
Iran and Turkey have had a rollercoaster relationship, from animosities to alliances. After they were US allies during the Cold War, their relations with Washington and Moscow changed radically as each pursued its own interpretation of political Islam, and invented its own Islamist slogans with a view to strengthening its presence in an Arab world that has since lost its nationalist identity without gaining an alternative capable of safeguarding the territorial unity of its political entities.
Iran began its interventions aimed at regional hegemony on the first day of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979. This was done through the slogans of “exporting the revolution,” which precipitated the Iran-Iraq war.
Turkey, on the other hand, had long dreamt of moving westward by joining the European family. But it eventually discovered that it was not a welcome addition to that family. Consequently, under Necmettin Erbakan then Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey changed direction, moving to the east and south toward the Arab world and western Asia.
The Arab Spring of 2011 was an opportunity for all three regional powers to compete for influence at the expense of Arab ambitions and aspirations. As Iran gained an early advantage in 2003 with the US invasion of Iraq, and later in 2008 as Hezbollah took control of Lebanon, Turkey decided to confront Iran by winning in Syria, Egypt and perhaps Libya too.
Israel has decided to benefit from the escalating Sunni-Shiite animosities by destroying any remaining chance of creating a Palestinian state, and by ensuring that the regional and Arab bloodletting continues, thus increasing its impregnability and killing off all that might threaten its existence.
By 2011, Iran had already achieved hegemony in Iraq and Lebanon, and through the Houthis established a foothold in Yemen. Later, in the Syrian conflict, Iran’s militias fought against forces supported by Turkey, before the Iranians and Turks were brought together in the Astana process due to Moscow’s limiting ambitions and Washington’s zeal in encouraging the Kurds.
Moreover, in 2013 Ankara suffered a major setback in Egypt, where it had regarded itself as a winner after the January 2011 uprising, which was soon exploited by the pro-Ankara Muslim Brotherhood that ruled Egypt between 2012 and 2013.
In Lebanon, people had begun to realize that the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was almost meaningless. The Assad regime was nothing but a front for a concealed Iranian occupation under the motto of “resistance.” The divisions between Lebanon’s factions were, and still are, too deep to build a responsible awareness of the need for an inclusive interest that is needed for nation-building.
Lebanon remains occupied, and worse, there is international collusion with this occupation, providing it with a veneer of constitutional legitimacy. Some Lebanese leaders, claiming to seek stability and adhering to realism after warning of the danger of a vacuum, have agreed to an apportionment that provides that cover. This is why they are now acting as if they did not know, although they know only too well what is asked of them.
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.