Lebanon: An Oasis within Conflict

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SHAFAQNA – Israel’s defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon was arguably one of the key events that preciptated both the ‘Arab Spring’ and the latest Middle Eastern conflict. For many political analysts what happens in Lebanon, it would seem, reverberates across the entire region.

The South Asia & Middle East Forum, last week, hosted an engaging and informative session on Lebanon’s future at the House of Commons in London.The event provided a political and economic overview of Lebanon and outlined Lebanon’s foreign relations with the United Kingdom as well as discussing the state of refugees in Lebanon and what needs to be done for these refugees.

The forum comprised a diverse panel of academics, internationally renowned specialists in the field of Middle Eastern politics, and members of the British Parliament to discuss the prospects of Lebanon. Stephan Gethins MP, SNP & Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman, Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Delegate General to the UK, Dr Andrew Arsan, from Cambridge University, Dr Najat Benchida-Savenius, from Oxford Strategic Consulting and Frances Guy, from Christian Aid & Former British Ambassador to Lebanon were all key speakers at the event.

Dr Najat Benchida-Savenius, from Oxford Strategic Consulting said Lebanon is one of the smallest states in the Middle East but despite its size Lebanon is culturally diverse and is influential in the Arab world as it lies at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland and that In the past, Lebanon has experienced periods of prosperity however, in the last few years, it has been facing political problems, in addition, to the refugee crisis.

The success of Lebanon in maintaining a relatively healthy economic situation is nothing short of a miracle given the lack of political progress and regional instability. The failure of the government to capitalize on recent gas reserve discoveries was, however, cited as an example of its political weakness as it had been unable to reach a concensus on how the stakeholdership would be divided whilst Israel is already using the ssme reserves. The Lebanese Central Bank was credited with keeping the economy on the rise as evidenced by Lebanon’s  $40 Billion dollar reserve and a 3 % growth in the economy last year.

Whilst Europe struggled to absorb refugees from the Middle Eastern conflicts Lebanon, to its credit, has successfully managed the care of millions of mainly Syrian refugees from the very outset of the allegedly externally-induced and mercenary-led conflicts in Iraq and Syria. It continues to provide humanitarian support with little foreign aid.

On a wider geo-political level and more controvertially the critical intervention of the Lebanese Hezbollah support for the Syrian government has ensured that Daesh and other takfiri insurgents have been unable to gain a strong foothold on either the borders of Lebanon, nor in the interior itself. This ground based military intervention has undoubtedly helped to turn the tide in favour of President Assad and is a major blow to those who wished to see conflict in Lebanon itself.

Hezbollah’s continued policing of the Southern border of Lebanon, against the constant threat of Israeli military invasion, remains arguably one of the key issues of contention with Israel but the solidarity of the patriarchs that oversee power in Lebanon shows they understand the strength provided by Hezbollah’s forces at a time when the Lebanese army remains underesourced.

Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Delegate General to the UK – Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon Today argued that Israel continues to be the main cause of problems in the Middle East with its ongoing inyernal apartheid style state policies and its clandestine operations across other conflicts in the Middle East. He pointed to Benjamin Neyanyahu’s increasingly cozy relations with Donald Trump as a sign that the two State solution for Palestinians was effectively dead -a situation that inevitably raises further instability in the region.

Stephan Gethins MP, Scottish National Party Shadow Spokesperson (Europe) and a member of the UK-Lebanon Relations & Civil Society said “the British government was in no mood to place sanctions on the Israeli government” who were identified by many speakers as being the major external threat to Lebanon’s security alongside ISIS, and other Gulf monarchy supported militants in Syria. Mr Gethins did however see a possibility of applying sanctions on goods produced by Israel in occupied Palestinian settlements. Delegates also agreed that the international community should do more in resolving the issue of Israeli military beligerence in the region as this would be critical in ensuring future stability in the region.

With Saudi Arabia now also offering its petro dinars to Lebanon and the inevitable new strategic plans being hatched from Tel Aviv to Washington DC as well as the continued presence of Daesh in the region, the future of Lebanon is by no means a stable one – perhaps it is time for the international community to act more decisively in bringing to book those who threaten the present peace in and around Lebanon.

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