Politics, World, Analysis

The Lebanese conundrum & UNSC Resolution 1701

The wise warnings of slain Lebanese politician Mohammad Chatah have gone largely unheeded

22.08.2017
The Lebanese conundrum & UNSC Resolution 1701

BEIRUT

Even for the eternal optimist, Lebanon can possibly engender an existential crisis as this precarious republic has yet to prove to the modern world that it can function as a modern and successful state.

Iran’s continued involvement in fighting on the side of the Assad regime, and Hezbollah’s disregard for Lebanon’s sovereignty, further aggravate matters and will possibly disenfranchise Lebanon, endangering its international political and economic standing, especially as it relates to UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

So far, very few Lebanese policymakers have pointed to this fact, as the majority of the ruling elite are busy with trivial matters, such as dividing what remains of Lebanon’s ailing economy.

Among the enlightened and brave voices whose warnings have gone unheeded is that of the former minister of finance, the late Mohammad Chatah, who was assassinated in December 2013 by a car bomb in the heart of Beirut.

Chatah, a former ambassador to the U.S. and deputy director of the IMF, also acted as senior adviser for international affairs to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon.

He played a pivotal role in bringing about Resolution 1701, which eventually put an end to the hostilities.

Despite his awareness of the regional and international implications of the Syria war, Chatah still believed that the Lebanese could contain the damage brought about by Hezbollah’s Syria incursion by pressuring the Lebanese government to call upon the international community to fully implement the resolution.

Even by ostensibly declaring neutrality vis-à-vis the war in Syria, the Lebanese government, under the premiership of Najib Mikati, watched helplessly in 2011 as Hezbollah ratcheted up pressure on Lebanon by subjecting it to international scrutiny and financial sanctions.

According to Chatah, who I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks before his murder, what was needed was for the Lebanese state to try and save what remained of its battered sovereignty.

From behind his elegant glasses, Chatah looked at us, sitting across the table, and remarked, “Whoever said that Resolution 1701 covers only the southern border with Israel? … Why can’t the Lebanese government petition for UNIFIL [the UN Interim Force in Lebanon] to be deployed along our eastern border with Syria? It would protect us from attacks and prevent any incursion across both sides of the border.”

Chatah was determined to share these same words with Iran’s newly elected president, Hasan Rouhani.

Chatah, however, never got the chance to mail the letter he had penned, which was published postmortem in the Wall Street Journal. The letter underscored the perilous times the region was undergoing and appealed to Rouhani’s moderate temperament to rein in the reckless actions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard across the region -- especially in Lebanon and Syria.

More importantly, Chatah urged Rouhani to help protect Lebanon through regional consensus and by “establishing effective control by the Lebanese army and security forces over the border with Syria, supported by the UN if needed as permitted under UNSC Resolution 1701”.

Unquestionably, Chatah was under no illusion that Rouhani would -- or could -- honor his request. But such a political maneuver, though it was doomed to failure, would certainly show the international community that a certain segment of Lebanese society was committed to international peace and security and refused to allow Lebanon to become a pariah state.

Chatah’s bravery and political acumen was undoubtedly a leading factor in his demise, just as his style of ingenious political maneuvering -- which aimed to transform Lebanon’s weakness into affirmative action -- was derided by his political foes.

As it stands, Chatah’s legacy does not seem to have survived within his own political group, the Future Movement under the leadership of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose response to Hezbollah’s continued bullying of the Lebanese state has been disappointing.

The recent military offensive orchestrated by Hezbollah against anti-Assad factions (the Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army) on the eastern border with Syria came to remind everyone that Iran’s proxy has neither the will nor the intent to respect the sovereignty of the state and its legitimate armed forces.

Within these realities, Hariri has opted to practice unnecessary constraint and occasionally instruct members of his parliamentary bloc to carry out banal verbal assaults against Hezbollah accusing it of peddling an obvious Iranian agenda.

Yet Hariri’s rejectionist tactic noticeably contradicts the obvious fact that he is presiding over a cabinet that has two Hezbollah ministers as well as his Maronite allies, the Free Patriotic Movement, which has on many occasions criticized Resolution 1701 and blatantly supported Assad’s brutal slaying of his own people.

Notwithstanding, PM Hariri is better off -- like Chatah suggested in 2013 -- appealing to the international community to authorize UNIFIL to support the Lebanese army in securing its eastern border, thus preventing Hezbollah from holding the Lebanese hostage.

While the international community might shy away from Hariri’s request and simply avoid being turned into potential targets, they will still recognize that Hariri is committed to protecting Lebanon from Hezbollah rather than investing his time in keeping his dysfunctional cabinet afloat.

At this point, leveraging Resolution 1701 might be one option for Hariri. But if Chatah was still serving as his foreign policy advisor, he would caution the prime minister that playing possum is neither ethical nor stately -- and far removed from the legacy which Chatah and Hariri’s father paid for with their lives.

*Opinions expressed in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

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