By Hiyam Kossayfi
The world is readying itself for an attack on Syria. For months, observers of the Syrian situation debated the repercussions of such an attack on neighboring countries, including the “soft spot” called Lebanon. But Lebanese officials are somewhere else, as usual.
The international media are beginning to treat an attack as a fait accompli. Yet the danger lies in the surprises that might result from such a major shift in the course of the Syrian war – including the consequent threat to Lebanon. Lebanese officials, meanwhile, are either on vacation abroad or busy with a Byzantine discussion on the government.
As zero hour approaches, details continue to emerge on the nature of a potential attack on Syria. Will it be limited to a painful blow or escalate into a ground invasion? Since US public opinion will reject a ground operation by their military, a compromise plan was discussed: a military attack on specific targets, in parallel to operations on the ground by Syrian opposition groups trained by Western experts in neighboring countries.
Much of the Western media and high-level Lebanese sources pointed to a disciplinary strike by the US against the Syrian regime and did not mention open-ended ground operations.
There is the possibility of a sudden collapse of the Syrian regime in the absence of a political protective umbrella, which would impact the structure of the state and lead the army to disintegrate. But more significantly is fear that extremist groups would get their hands on sophisticated weapons.
Western media reports maintain that Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, are pressing for expanding the scope of the operation to be a knockout blow to the regime. This raises fears, as mentioned by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem at a press conference, that the military operation will strengthen the presence of opposition groups in some of the areas they control, especially around Damascus.
Lebanon Is Incommunicado
Meanwhile, Lebanese officials are completely absent from the scene. Even worse, while the voice of the international community and its preparations is fully heard, Lebanon does not seem to be officially calculating for the next phase, which threatens to manifest in the shape of car bombs.
But since the Syrian reply is under debate, it is not a small detail that questions about Hezbollah’s reaction to a strike by the US are posed in Western reports. This automatically suggests several levels of repercussions against Lebanon in the event of a US strike on Syria.
First, on the political level, Lebanon is undeniably on the verge of a dangerous choice related to its official position concerning a military operation against Syria. President Michel Suleiman’s position on Syria is known. The resigned government is absurdly trying to disengage itself from the Syrian war. Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour’s position has been a cause of political disagreements between March 8 and March 14.
So, how could Lebanon face the situation in Arab and international meetings? What will be the official position of the president, the prime minister, and the foreign minister, who decided to unilaterally contact his Syrian counterpart on Tuesday? Will the official position be to denounce the attack or remain silent, breaking the Arab consensus in support of the operation?
Second, on the security level, several questions returned on the possibility of a military operation in Lebanon. They were raised several months ago, but do not seem to be pertinent in this situation. An air operation does not need a base in Lebanon.
The US can easily use their regional or Mediterranean bases. Furthermore, Washington is still sending messages about Lebanon’s stability and pressuring to disengage it from the events of the Syrian war. However, the question remains, if the US uses Lebanese airspace, what would be Lebanon’s reaction?
The remaining questions relate to Lebanon’s ability to face a series of security challenges, beginning with the possibility that some sides might use the US operation as a justification for targeting the interests of Western countries participating in the operations, mainly the US itself. This might lead to serious consequences.
This is in addition to the usual threat to international forces stationed in South Lebanon and retaliations they might face. Added to that is fears that a field operation, especially in Damascus and surrounding areas, would result to an increased flux of Syrian refugees into the country.
Internal challenges could also involve attempts by local sides to change the situation and exploit the circumstances to change the balance on the ground, such as in Tripoli.
Third, on the government level, there is a real fear among some of its sides that the Western campaign on Syria will be accompanied by a counter-campaign to press for the formation of a government at any price. This scenario does not come from nowhere, several indicators are forcing those who reject a status quo government to start raising questions about the intention of some sides to embark on an adventure under the umbrella of the international campaign against Damascus.
This explains warnings of a quick victory in Syria and attempts to invest it in Lebanon. According to informed sources, regional pressure to form a government without Hezbollah is not isolated from the change of the international mood concerning the Assad regime. It is a ring in a long chain aiming to strangle Hezbollah and Syria’s allies in Lebanon.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.