Will the post-1920 maps survive the Middle East’s great implosion?

Will the post-1920 maps survive the Middle East’s great implosion?

As soon as one issue is resolved, it spawns another crisis (File/AFP)
As soon as one issue is resolved, it spawns another crisis (File/AFP)
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I know in advance, given the tense — if not explosive — current political circumstances, that this article will be condemned in some quarters and be met with bewilderment and discomfort in others. Nonetheless, anything less than a blunt conversation would be inappropriate.

The region finds itself in an extremely dangerous position today. Its people do not fully appreciate the risks and the international community, which has been losing credibility with every day that passes and at every juncture, does not care about the repercussions.

Of course, some consider our countries powerless and incapable of making a difference or having an impact on the current course of events, seeing their proliferation in nearly every corner of the Arab world as proof. In fact, as soon as we resolve one issue, it spawns another crisis and, once any crisis emerges, one faction or other tries to exploit it before its ramifications impact them.

I believe there is no need to waste time addressing each of these crises. Still, there is no harm in discussing particular cases. Both major and minor polities, as well as mature and newly emergent political identities, are now feeling the repercussions of the regionwide collapse. Failed states are waving hello as far as the eye can see.

Some consider our countries powerless and incapable of having an impact on the current course of events

Eyad Abu Shakra

Lebanon was rocked by two murders over the past week. The first victim was Pascal Suleiman, the coordinator of the Lebanese Forces in Jbeil. The second was a money changer named Mohammed Surur, who had been sanctioned by the US for facilitating financial operations by Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas.

According to the official narrative, Suleiman was assassinated during a car robbery. However, details of the incident, including those that emerged before his body was found, as well as the fact that his corpse was taken from Lebanon to Syria, suggest that this was anything but a robbery.

Many Lebanese factions have linked Suleiman’s killing to Syrian refugees and displaced persons, as well as to “illegitimate” arms. The latter is an obvious nod to Hezbollah and this rhetoric comes amid talk that the group could become embroiled in an all-out clash with Israel in solidarity with Tehran following the strike on its consulate in Damascus.

For context, Jbeil is a mixed region predominantly inhabited by Maronites and Shiites. It has seen a litany of disputes and controversies over land ownership and political and partisan mobilization in recent months.

We have seen a consistent rise in violent incitement against Syrian refugees and displaced persons within the Christian community in Lebanon. Thus, the murder of Suleiman hit several birds with one stone.

Firstly, it created a link to the incident with Syrian territory and Syrian individuals.

Secondly, it fueled the fears of Lebanese Christians regarding the presence of Syrian refugees and displaced individuals in the country, thereby strengthening calls for their return (even though the main reason Syrian refugees have remained in Lebanon is that the Damascus regime refuses to allow them to return, having deliberately displaced them).

Thirdly, it has created a climate of fear in Lebanon that ends with acquiescence to the logic of armed force and leaves those with arms, either through war or deals in which Iran plays a major role, to decide Lebanon’s fate.

The emotional and nationalistic reactions seen in many quarters are understandable and even predictable

Eyad Abu Shakra

Fourthly, it has sent an indirect message to other Lebanese sects: accept that decisions of war and peace will remain in the hands of Hezbollah and the armed groups under its command, which it is now also creating within other sects.

Questions also remain regarding the murder of Surur. A woman claiming she wanted his help completing a financial transaction asked Surur to come to her villa outside Beirut, and he left her villa a corpse.

The precise and calibrated manner in which the assassination was carried out reaffirms what we already know: that regional intelligence agencies, particularly Mossad, are extremely active in the country. The Mossad has shown, as it did with the assassination of leading Hamas official Saleh Al-Arouri in January, that it can reach targets inside Lebanon, as well as in Syria and Iraq, with confidence and ease.

Mossad is operating in Lebanon and its arm is long, to borrow a phrase from the Lebanese dialect. Israel understands the implications of potentially displacing tens of thousands of Shiite southerners to the Lebanese interior in the event of an escalation, especially in ethnically and religiously sensitive regions. Thus, we should not discount the prospect of domestic sectarian strife being stirred, if Israel seeks it and the Americans and Europeans are complicit.

This scenario applies to Jordan and Syria as well.

The maps of 1920, drawn after the First World War, determine the contemporary borders of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Iran has effectively erased these borders since 2003, first through hegemony in Iraq and then in Syria, which has been transformed into a “bridge” connecting the Iranian proxies that are in control of Iraq and Lebanon. Moreover, after the world remained silent as Tehran and Moscow suppressed the Syrian mass uprising of 2011, Iran began working on an extensive and ongoing settlement project in various regions of the country.

Meanwhile, Tehran has also tightened its grip on Iraq and it is currently escalating the situation there. Some Iraqi factions under Iran’s control have set their sights on Jordan, targeting it directly from the east. In this regard, the emotional and nationalistic reactions seen in many quarters are understandable and even predictable. Nonetheless, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” I have no doubt that the extremist Israeli leadership would not mind if Jordan were to collapse as a political entity, as that would facilitate the forced expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank.

The same scenario applies to the reconfiguration of Lebanon after the majority of the Shiite population on the border with Israel is forced to go north, into the Lebanese interior, to confuse the situation and stir primal instincts.

It can also be applied in Syria, which has essentially ceased to be a sovereign state. Various powers have established spheres of influence within it: the Russians in the northwest, the Turks in the region from Idlib to Aleppo and the Euphrates, the Americans and Kurds in the areas east of the Euphrates and, finally, the “Iranian corridor,” stretching from Baghdad through Abu Kamal and Damascus to Beirut. Currently. The only areas that are not controlled by foreign powers are in southern Syria, namely Deraa and Suwayda.

These are difficult times and anything can happen. Arabs lack the capacity to shape developments, Israel’s fanaticism is not being restrained and international institutions have become incapacitated through complicity, inadequacy or the rule of populist leaders. All of this is happening as the US prepares to hold a presidential election that will be like no other.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. X: @eyad1949
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