• Sarah Bassil

Is PM Hariri’s Return a Light at the End of the Tunnel of Foreign Interference in Lebanon?

When Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon resigned from the premiership early November, we all figured that the Lebanese government was about to collapse again, a year of a barely functioning government was too good to be true in Lebanon.

‘There goes another opportunity for progress’ was a thought shared by many Lebanese, at home and abroad. But in a very Lebanese fashion, The Hariri saga dragged on for a couple weeks, without hinting what would happen. After brief visits to France and Egypt, Hariri headed back to Beirut to celebrate Independence Day.

After countless meetings with different parties and foreign officials, Hariri formally withdrew his resignation on December 5, citing productive meetings that implied an understanding with the other political organizations that there would not be meddling “dissociation” in foreign conflicts. In essence, this was a signal to Hezbollah to back off in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen or there would be severe consequences for Lebanon.

Shortly after he withdrew his resignation, Prime Minister Hariri was invited by French President Macron to the Ministerial meeting of the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon in Paris on December 8th. Representatives of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were in attendance along with envoys from Germany, Italy, and regional powerhouse Egypt. The ISG essentially drew attention to the Lebanese Cabinet’s previous commitment to a dissociation policy, citing UN Security Council Resolutions, including 1559 and 1701.

The talks in that the ISG addressed concerns some Lebanese officials have about the country’s involvement, willing or not, in the regional issues, and warned against dragging Lebanon into regional conflicts, with reference to Saudi Arabia’s pressure on the country. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had critical words for the Saudis. “With respect to Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Qatar, how they’re handling the Yemen war that they’re engaged in, the Lebanon situation, we would encourage them to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences.”

The difficult and challenging issues of the enormous refugee presence in Lebanon was also addressed when French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Belgium would host a conference next year to find ways to help Lebanon handle its massive refugee population.

In respect to the United State’s commitment to Lebanon, the US Embassy in Beirut announced three new U.S. department of Defense programs on December 13. “These systems — valued at more than $120 million — include six new MD 530G light attack helicopters, six new Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles, and leading edge communication and night vision devices. This advanced equipment will help the Army build on its steady strong capability to conduct border security and counter terrorism operations and importantly to defend the country and the people of Lebanon.” Read the full statement here.

Furthermore, the delegations reaffirmed their commitment to Lebanese stability, security, sovereignty and “...their support for the ongoing efforts of the Lebanese authorities to restore normal functioning of institutions and prepare the holding of legislative elections by May 2018 and in accordance with international standards.” Read the full report here.

So the Lebanese can breath a bit more normally now, holding on until the next crisis emerges.

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