Lebanon: The Guessing Game

Christian politician and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder Michel Aoun (R) sits with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in Beirut, Lebanon, October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir - RTX2QW6J

The Levant holds its breath awaiting Donald Trump’s next move

By Marlene Khalife

There are two main priorities, which Lebanon expects the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to tackle: eliminating Daesh, and freezing U.S. attempts to dismantle regimes in favor of creating a new map for this region; a process which his contender, Hillary Clinton, was one of its players. The other priority is strengthening the Lebanese Army so that it would be able to counter terrorism.

However, Trump’s comments and his earlier speech before AIPAC, when he was still a presidential candidate, do not promise good things for the peoples of the Levant.

The Lebanese do believe that the U.S. policy on the Middle East will not change. On the contrary, it may get even stricter, given the complete bias, which Trump has demonstrated so far towards Israel, something which the Lebanese have to keep in mind.

But despite indicators, including the U.S.-Russian rapprochement, which hint at the possibility of a solution to a six-year Syrian crisis, the Lebanese and Syrians remain uncertain and are monitoring the progress of the U.S.-Iranian relations, which may have implications on the region given Tehran’s large influence in both countries.

In that sense, veteran Lebanese Politician, MP, and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt tells Newsweek Middle East that “it will be stupid for Trump to change or cancel the nuclear agreement [with Iran], because the reality on the ground indicates that Iran, despite the sanctions, has managed to survive for years.”

Jumblatt adds that the Lebanese must work together, going forward, to refute any rumor that the newly elected president Michel Aoun was brought in by the Iranians.

Sources close to Aoun, himself a political ally to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, say that the president staunchly refutes the allegations, insisting he is a president elected by the Lebanese and will serve all of Lebanon.

“Perhaps there was a settlement somewhere to reach a solution when Lebanon faced a power vacuum. However, the president’s election was purely a Lebanese matter, and the elected president is Lebanese, and his priorities in his acceptance speech were very clear,” insists Jumblatt.

And as some U.S. publications took interest in running their own analysis with regard to the Lebanese presidential file and its links to Tehran, Jumblatt points out that their “theories” have placed Lebanon under the impact of the U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah.

President Michel Aoun must make a priority of this file and work in collaboration with the appointed Premier Saad Hariri to strengthen Lebanon from any further implications that may arise from the U.S. in the future,” he adds.

On the other hand, counter terrorism operations carried by the Lebanese Army, remain a priority for the Lebanese, especially at a time when the country is hosting over 1.5 million Syrian refugees and is under threat by terrorist organizations such as Daesh and Al Nusra Front–Al Qaeda’s arm in the Levant–who have managed to infiltrate in under the pretext of refugees.

The Lebanese security apparatus has managed to detain and dismantle a number of terrorist cells across the country, many of which had Syrian refugees collaborating with the terrorists, which has put the country on high alert.

“What is needed is to aid the Lebanese Army to spread its control across the Lebanese territories in a manner that forbids the presence of terror-controlled zones or terrorist cells inside the country,” former Lebanese Army Special Forces’ chief, retired General Shamel Roukoz tells Newsweek Middle East.

“It is also vital to control the border area and the outskirts of Arsal, which is a stone’s throw from the border with Syria to prevent terrorist organizations from entering or moving about in the area,” he says. The general, whose name is currently being deliberated as the country’s possible next defense minister, adds that “the Palestinian refugee camps must be closely monitored and controlled as well.”

THE SYRIAN FILE
The Syrian file is the most vital file at present for the Levant, especially for Jordan and Lebanon.

Jordanian strategy analyst Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh says “there is a focal point in Trump’s speech that relates to prioritizing the fight against Daesh over the idea of toppling Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.”

According to Sabaileh: “This speech has moved the Americans closer to the Russian solution for the Syrian crisis, which constitutes an important change in heart over the Syrian file.”

As Trump said, he is not interested in dismantling regimes in this region, and his stand will surely impact not only Syria, but also its neighboring countries Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, and could signal the beginning of a solution to the six-year old Syrian crisis.

“This means a new approach to fighting terrorism and a lower displaced and refugees’ numbers, and a window to rebuild the ailing Lebanese economy,” MP Yassine Jaber tells Newsweek Middle East.

THE ARAB-ISRAELI ISSUE
“When it comes to the peace process, if we are looking at it from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict’s angle, and taking into consideration what the Israeli officials have said, weíd find that the peace process is practically worthless,” says Sabaileh.

He adds that Israel is now looking at a whole Arab-peace treaty than a Palestinian-Israeli agreement.

Trump had said earlier that he will see to it that the U.S. embassy be moved to Jerusalem, which he called the “capital of the Jewish people,” and further called upon the Palestinians to stop their “daily terrorism” against Israel.

But some Lebanese refuse to believe everything that Trump had said during his campaign.

“I will not judge Trump’s quotes because during election time, a lot is said,” said Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
“All we have to do is wait and see what comes out of it,” he tells Newsweek Middle East.

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