Lebanon will soon have to face up to the responsibilities that come with sovereignty (or partial sovereignty) and prestige on the international stage. Earlier this year, Lebanon took over a non-permanent, rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council (replacing Libya as the “Arab” representative on the Council).
President Michel Sleiman, perhaps ignoring words of caution from foreign capitals, coveted the seat as a means of amplifying Lebanon’s diplomatic significance and increasing the brand-conscious country’s prestige. But, as the old adage goes, with power comes responsibility. Just a few months after its arrival on the Council, Lebanon is already feeling the heat on an issue that has divided the politicians in Beirut.
The United States and its European allies are pushing hard for sanctions on Iran. Whatever the merits and faults of the policy, the fact is that several friends of Lebanon – the United States among them – are pursuing sanctions that ban transactions with certain Iranian entities, as opposed to the current regime that urges states to exercise restraint in their dealings with Tehran.
Key states like China, which holds the veto power, Brazil, and Turkey, have come out against a more robust sanctions regime on Iran, which may torpedo the vote. Nevertheless, if the West succeeds in convincing the Chinese to abstain, Lebanon will have to take a public stance.
The problem is, Lebanon is home to Hizbullah, a powerful Shiite militia-cum-political party that has for the past three decades enjoyed Iran’s ideological, political, technical, and financial support. Hizbullah has already displayed a willingness to use force to prevent the central government in Beirut (of which the Party of God is a member) from threatening its core interests, or those of its patrons in Iran.
A robust sanctions regime against entities owned or linked to Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the condemnation which a Resolution against Iran would represent would certainly threaten be viewed as such a threat.
Memories of May 2008, when Hizbullah routed March 14 fighters in the streets of Beirut amid and exposed the limits of American and Arab support for Lebanon’s majority coalition, linger fresh in the minds of Lebanese politicians.
Thus, while Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his March 14 coalition, which probably represents the most pro-Western grouping of political parties in the Arab world, would like to avoid alienating the United States or like-minded European states, they will probably acquiesce in the face of Hizbullah’s pressure.
As matters stand, Beirut will be lucky to pass on the issue – it’s the best possible poor choice.
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