Lebanon’s Dilemma Following Riyadh Summit – OpEd

By Diana Moukalled*

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil is a different person and in a different position after the Riyadh Summit.

Looking at Lebanon’s previous governments in the past years, we notice how Lebanon used to return from such meetings burdened with major internal and Arab crises.

The reason was Lebanon’s leaning toward parties allied with Iran, a position that was also held by Bassil. This Lebanese bias was the reason for many confrontations and rifts with other Arab states.

Undoubtedly, Bassil is not in an enviable position.

On the one hand, he wants to show that his father-in-law, President Michel Aoun, is in a strong position and has good connections in the Arab world. However, Aoun’s support for Hezbollah led to several reservations, which caused him not to be invited to the summit.

Instead the invitation was limited to the Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri.

On the other hand, Bassil wants to appease his allies in Hezbollah and Iran and avoid any embarrassment with them, especially after he complied with the prime minister, who chose to follow the summit’s stance in confronting Iranian interventions in the region. During the summit, Al-Hariri fully endorsed this direction.

The dilemma for both Bassil and Aoun is that juggling these two directions is difficult — rather, impossible — and more now than ever.

This particular struggle is probably what led Bassil to say upon his return to Lebanon that he wasn’t aware that the Riyadh Declaration included a strong line on Iran, a comment that was widely ridiculed by the Lebanese people.

Yet, the statement in the government’s last session on avoiding Lebanon getting involved in any regional conflicts served as a ruling that allowed Lebanon to contain the fallout of the US-Arab-Islamic Summit.

It seems that all parties have agreed on overcoming a crisis that could have been caused by Lebanon’s harmony with the Arab consensus at the Riyadh Summit.

Despite Hezbollah ministers’ pressures to issue negative statements criticizing the Riyadh Summit, the government has avoided officially leading Lebanon into a confrontation with the Arab world and international community.

This position was in agreement between Al-Hariri and Aoun, as it is obvious that both want to spare Lebanon challenges in light of the summit’s main priority of combating Iran and its branches, particularly Hezbollah.

The question remains: How will Lebanon address the next phase? And how will it distance itself from Hezbollah’s involvement in more than one field, as the confrontation with Iran intensifies?

Lebanon will defiantly reach a moment of truth that could prove earthshaking if its leaders aren’t wise enough.

• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.


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Arab News

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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