Lebanese Acting Prime Minister Mustafa Adib resigned last week after failing to form a new government. This signals a deepening political crisis in Lebanon, where protests have been taking place since October last year. Lebanese protesters are demanding the formation of a technocratic government that is not associated with the corrupt ruling parties, which is capable of implementing reforms and tightening anti-corruption measures. French President Emmanuel Macron took over the peacekeeping mission, but he was unable to resolve the crisis, as the dominant Shiite party and the terrorist organization Hezbollah are once again trying to influence the government formation process in the interests of their sponsor Iran.
Lebanon is facing a deep financial and socio-economic crisis. Corruption is flourishing in the country: budget money is being taken away by officials and party elites. The Lebanese pound has depreciated by 80%, there are interruptions in the supply of medicines, grain, fuel, prices and the number of unemployed are growing. Half of the Lebanese are below the poverty line. Some of them are joining the ranks of asylum seekers in the European Union. Social tensions are exacerbated by 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon with EU money. The country's government is unable to pay debts to foreign creditors.
Lebanese protesters pushed for the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October 2019, when he failed to form a technocratic government. The same fate befell his successor, Hassan Diab, in August 2020, - he resigned after failing to address the disaster at the port of Beirut, where an ammonium nitrate warehouse exploded. The blast wave blew away entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital, killed 200 people, left 300,000 residents homeless, which aggravated the crisis.
Since the end of the civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990) the Middle Eastern state is an object of geopolitical competition between Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and secular oil monarchies, Israel, Europe, and the United States, on the other. The terrorist organization Hezbollah, created in 1982, is the agent of Iran's interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. It integrated into the political system of the country, took the majority of the seats in parliament reserved for Shiites. There are 30,000 militants under the arms of Hezbollah, and prominent representatives of the Shiite community usually head responsible departments, including the ministries of finance and transport. Despite belonging to Sunni Islam, ex-Prime Minister Hassan Diyab had a reputation as a favor to Hezbollah and Iran.
Lebanon together with Syria, Iraq, Yemen forms the so-called "Shiite crescent" - the space of Iran's geopolitical expansion. Relying on the support of lured armed Shiite groups, Tehran is trying to turn these countries into its fiefdoms, to influence political decisions there. Iran's strategic goal is to become a leader in the Middle East, to dominate the Muslim world.
Such prospects do not suit the West, primarily the United States, which with the help of sanctions restrain Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, France, which protectorate was Lebanon, as well as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, which perceive Tehran and Islamic fundamentalists as a threat to their statehood. Therefore, the protests in Lebanon that have been continuing since last year, which have united Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Christians, and representatives of different ethnic groups, are perceived by these countries as an opportunity to squeeze Iranian influence out of the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon in August and held talks with President Michel Aoun, persuading him to appoint the former Lebanese ambassador to Germany, Mustafa Adeeb, to the post of prime minister and instruct him to form a government by September 15 without the participation of Iranian supporters.
Also, the French leader had a conversation with Saad Hariri and they came to the conclusion that a politically neutral technocrat should take the post of finance minister.
The United States acted as "heavy artillery" and imposed personal sanctions against former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil of the Shiite Amal Party and ex-Transport Minister Youssef Fenyanos of the Christian Movement, who are partners of Hezbollah and President Bashar's regime Assad in Syria. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin expressed support for the Lebanese protesters and pledged to put pressure on Hezbollah, which is hindering reforms. The Americans made it clear that the Iranian protégé was not going to receive anything in the new government.
Restarting the Lebanese government is beneficial to Israel. In the event that ideologically unbiased technocrats come to power, it is possible to hold negotiations with the mediation of the United States on the recognition of Israel by Lebanon and the joint use of a gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel was recently recognized by the UAE and Bahrain. If Hezbollah was left behind by the government, then the Lebanese leadership would have to think carefully about it in exchange for American investment. The "Kushner Plan" provided for the allocation of $ 6 billion to Lebanon. According to unofficial information, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East David Schenker was instructed to persuade Lebanese President Michel Aoun to begin negotiations with Israel on the demarcation of the sea border.
Creditors are putting pressure on the Lebanese authorities. The IMF, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have refused to lend to Lebanon until a reform-capable government is formed. Since 2018, the IMF has delayed the provision of a loan to Beirut in the amount of $ 11 billion. In international practice, the IMF's loan to the state is a signal to other lenders and investors that it is safe to invest there. UAE State Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash stressed that Lebanon's relations with the Gulf countries have been deteriorating over the past 10 years, Hezbollah dictates its line on political issues and is almost a separate army. And if this continues, Lebanon will not receive funding to overcome the crisis.
Macron's initiative ended in complete failure, as evidenced by the resignation of Mustafa Adib. Hezbollah and Amal insist on appointing their own man as finance minister, not a neutral technocrat. This key post would allow the Islamists to maintain control over the financial flows of Lebanon. Negotiations with the participation of parliamentary parties have reached an impasse.
Containment of China
The United States intervened in the political crisis in Lebanon to contain China's economic expansion. In search of funding, former Prime Minister Hassan Diyab began negotiations with the PRC. Beijing has proposed building solar power plants to tackle power outages, tunneling through the mountains to reduce transport links between Beirut and the Bekaa Valley, and building a railroad along the Lebanese coast. The total cost of China's projects in Lebanon was estimated at $ 12.5 billion. The rapprochement between Lebanon and China is approved by Hezbollah. The Americans hoped that the government of Mustafa Adib would reconsider these plans.
Lebanon is interesting to China in geopolitical terms, since the republic occupies a transit position between the East and the West. The Lebanese port of Tripoli could be involved in the global transport and infrastructure initiative "One Belt, One Road", which is an instrument of the Celestial Empire to strengthen its influence in the world. As part of the project, it was planned to build a highway and a Beirut-Damascus railway. Since 2006, there has been an "Association of Arab-Chinese Friendship" aimed at strengthening commercial ties between China and multinational Lebanon and Arab countries. China has hosted 15 different thematic conferences.
Hindrance to Turkey
Macron's initiative to form a technocratic government in Lebanon focused on cooperation with the West was calculated to contain the growth of Turkish influence. Turkey, like the United States and the oil monarchies, wants to squeeze out Iran's influence in Lebanon, but is playing an independent game, striving for leadership in the Middle East. Erdogan has a difficult relationship with the Israeli leadership because of the support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. There is a cold snap in Turkish-French relations in the context of the crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara's encroachments on oil and gas fields in the free economic zone of Greece and Cyprus. Not to mention the contradictions with the United States through NATO.
In July this year, Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi announced the arrest of two Turks and two Syrians while trying to smuggle $ 4 million into the country to fund the protests. The Turkish Foreign Ministry denies these accusations, but this does not mean that the Turks have no interests in Lebanon. Turkish President Recep Erdogan is seeking to increase his influence in countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire, including Lebanon. Basically, Turkey maintains contacts with representatives of the Sunni community. Turkey has opened cultural centers in Lebanon where Turkish is taught.
Turkey is one of the ten largest trade and economic partners of Lebanon. Last year, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu expressed interest in investing in the Lebanese economy. In 2010, Ankara financed the renovation of a train station in the city of Tripoli on the Hejaz railway, built during the Ottoman period. In August, Vice-President of Turkey Fuat Oktay and Cavosoglu visited Beirut, offered President Michel Aoun to rebuild the port after the explosion. In 2019, about 10 thousand Lebanese who have Turkish or Turkmen roots received Turkish citizenship.
The crisis in Lebanon will deepen under any circumstances. If the people of Hezbollah take the helm of the Lebanese government, the international creditors will not give money, and the protests will continue. Even if Adib managed to appoint an independent specialist to the post of Minister of Finance and form a government, then Hezbollah, Amal and their partners could block any decision at the parliamentary level, put forward a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.
As a last resort, Hezbollah can use its armed wing to stage a coup and prevent Lebanon from leaving Iran's orbit. Such a scenario is fraught with a new civil war, in which external actors, including Israel, Turkey, Syria, possibly the United States and France, and oil monarchies can intervene.