Factors of stability
The report by the United Nations says that the political climate in Lebanon has improved in the past months as a result of the implementation the agreement reached in Doha in May of this year.
The deal appears more and more as the outcome of an international consensus that owes much to French President Nicolas Sarkozy whose prime minister, François Fillon, has just ended a visit to Lebanon.
The report notes “a greater degree of stability in the country” following the election of Michel Sleiman to the presidency on 25 May. And it confirms “notable progress with regard to Lebanon's relations with its neighbors,” a trend that is closely related to the implementation of resolution 1701.
The document underscores the accord reached on 15 October by Lebanon and Syria to establish diplomatic relations and work together on a number of issues of common concern like border demarcation. The two countries should appoint their respective ambassadors before the end of the year.
Even though UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he is “encouraged” by the positive signs of increased security coordination between the Lebanese authorities and Palestinian factions and by the efforts made by the Palestine Liberation Organization to regain control of security inside the camps, he remains “concerned” about the succession of incidents inside refugee camps.
The report also refers to the hunt for Salafi elements from the Fatah al-Islam, an organisation backed by Damascus and pro-Syrian Palestinian groups. The latter’s participation adds an element of ambiguity to the analysis to the extent that Damascus and Lebanon’s Future Movement accuse each other of entertaining secret alliances with the group.
Conversely, indirect talks between Israel and Syria via Turkey are a factor of regional stability.
Elements of uncertainty
As Israel gets ready for parliamentary elections on 10 February 2009, the political situation in that country according to the report is one of a disturbing “degree of uncertainty”, in what is a veiled hint at the possibility that hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu might lead Israel’s right back to power.
The report also noted that Israel’s occupation of the village of Ghajar remained a “source of tension” that Hizbollah has exploited to claim that a diplomatic solution is an illusion and that armed resistance is fully justified.
US diplomatic circles, hoping that the return of Ghajar might strengthen the government of Fuad Siniora, have deplored Israel’s inflexibility on the matter.
Poor relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia are also seen as an important source of tensions. The Doha Agreement, which made the election of Lebanon’s president possible, has not improved the relationship.
In an overall situation where stability, uncertainties and tensions balance each other out it is difficult to know what the future has in store. Elections in Lebanon (May 2009) and Iran (June 2009) as well as US Mideast policy under a new administration will play a key role in shaping this future, especially in relation to the creation of a Palestinian state and US military presence in Iraq. US policy will have to wait however till January next year.
A worst case scenario would see fundamentalists win in Israel, Iran and Lebanon.
Despite the hostility of at least half of the Lebanese population Hizbollah continues to maintain a military capacity independent of the national army. What is more the ongoing “national dialogue” does not seem to have had any effect except to head off the civil war that loomed last May between Sunnis and Shiites.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is on a visit to Beirut, urged Lebanon to follow Syria’s lead and begin indirect talks with Israel. But for the moment such a proposal remains pure science fiction.