Notes on the Region: New Government Formation Continues Apace with Bumps along the Way; Russia Build
While Lebanese Parties Bicker about Ministries, outside forces continue to press their favorites. Prime Minister Designate Saad Hariri knew it wouldn’t be easy and complications continue. For now, there seems to be agreement that there will be 30 ministries (with no discussion how this affects public spending and the national debt) and multiple “Ministers of State” to make up the political pie. But the actual make-up of the government is proving elusive.
Druze leaders are divided; party chiefs have visited Riyadh to discuss priorities; Christian parties continue their very public arguments about who best represents the interests of the community; while Syria and Russia, and to some extent Iran, make sure that the warring parties remember their patrons. For example, Hariri and Walid Jumblatt have been to Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom has in turn made overtures to the Lebanese Forces (LF) that wants to limit Syrian and Hezbollah influence in Lebanon. According to one analyst, “"They want to protect the presence of the Lebanese Forces (LF), their strongest ally at this juncture, in the executive branch.” The article in Middle East Eye points out that “Whether excluding Hezbollah or protecting the Lebanese Forces, Saudi Arabia's interference marks a return to Lebanon in a context of rising regional tensions with Iran and an upsurge in Israeli military activity in Syria.”
And yet another relative of President Aoun has spoken out about the need to facilitate sending Syrian refugees back, echoing Foreign Minister Designate Gebran Bassil. This time it is another son-in-law and former chief of the LAF commandos, Chamel Roukoz, newly elected to Parliament on the Strong Lebanon list. He said that “Lebanon is no longer able to absorb the consequences of the Syrian emigration due to the great pressure on infrastructure and the struggle for jobs," and suggested three options to ensure their speedy return.
“Direct contact with the Syrian government through the director general of General Security or others; the adoption of the method used in the south, which in this case would be the holding of meetings between representatives of Lebanon, Syria, and the United Nations. The third method is to assign Moscow with the refugee file to complete their return.” Currently, the first two options are already in play although there is no consensus on the stability and security issues facing the refugees. The third option rests on the assumption that Russia has sufficient influence on the regime and other international players to deliver an acceptable solution, which it has yet to enunciate.
One thing is clear: the Russians are in Syria for the long haul. For the last 18 months or so, Russia has increased its economic presence in Syria using its companies and partners that are not intimidated by the level of risk. In addition to the recent start of a major tourism site in Manara, there are projects planned in infrastructure, energy, and of course military installations. As of now, “There are some drawbacks to Russian-Syrian partnerships. Syria hasn’t yet granted preferential treatment to Russian exports, and the current lack of Syrian infrastructure to store, process, and transport goods to Russia remains a serious challenge.” Undeterred, the “Russian Energy Ministry said a road map providing for the rehabilitation, modernization, and construction of new energy facilities in Syria had been signed,” according to a story in Al-Monitor. This includes the final phase of the construction of the Northern Gas Processing Plant (GPP-2) near Raqqa, and rebuilding the country’s largest phosphate mines in Khunayfis and Al-Sharqiyah outside Palmyra.
The continuing question is if “Russia will be able to implement its own recovery plans for Syria, Moscow has to ensure the stability of Syria’s postwar security and find ways of maintaining leverage over Damascus against the background of close Syrian-Iranian interaction,” the article concluded.
Russia is Hearing Quite Clearly Israel’s Message on Redlines, so says a post in Real Clear Defense. As previously announced, Israel has been explicit in announcing that no settlement that allows Iran and Hezbollah forces, including Shite militias to remain in Syria is acceptable. It also insist Syria cannot be a transshipment point for advanced, game-changing weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, especially Precision Guided Munitions (PMGs). Any type of terrorist threats, directly or indirectly instigated by Iran on Israel’s borders will not be tolerated. These messages have been communicated to Russia through meetings between Putin and Netanyahu as well as numerous statements from Israeli officials who are saying “that it is in Russia’s national interest to ensure that the Iranian access abides by Israel’s red lines.”