Daily Briefing: Maintaining Lebanon’s Fragile Stability (August 29,2019)

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 22, 2019.
(Source: Flickr)

 

Table of Contents:

 

Lebanese Civil War-Era Leaders Stay Relevant by Outmanoeuvring Hezbollah:  Khaled Yacoub Oweis, The National, Aug. 12, 2019

 

A Path for Political Change in Lebanon? Lessons and Narratives from the 2018 Elections:  Nadim El Kak, Arab Reform Initiative, July 25, 2019

 

Hariri: UN, US Will Participate in Negotiations on Maritime Borders: Naharnet Newsdesk, Aug. 17, 2019


The Drone Arms Race and Israel’s Enemies – Analysis:  Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 25, 2019

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Lebanese Civil War-Era Leaders Stay Relevant by Outmanoeuvring Hezbollah
Khaled Yacoub Oweis
The National, Aug. 12, 2019

Three figures from Lebanon’s civil war are proving indispensable in bringing about a fragile stability after the country recently endured one of its deepest political crises. The three, in different ways, outmaneuvered the vastly more powerful Hezbollah movement. They stuck to nonviolence and called what proved to be a political bluff by Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and is allied with the Syrian regime.
It was a masterclass that only the older generation – versed in the brutal school of Lebanese politics – could deliver. Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, Christian leader Samir Geagea and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite, were rivals during the 1975-1990 civil war. Mr. Berri is 81, Mr. Jumblatt is 70 and Mr. Geagea is 67. They dislike each other but seemed intent not to breathe life into old grievances when they held their ground against Hezbollah during a recent crisis that threatened a return to communal violence and to deliver a deathblow to Lebanon’s ailing economy.

The problems started on June 30, after a shootout in the Chouf Mountains linked to a campaign by Hezbollah and its allies to unseat Mr. Jumblatt. The area is the heartland of Lebanon’s small but deep-rooted Druze community, which comprises an estimated 5 percent of the county’s 6.1 million people. The incident quickly took a bizarre twist and was portrayed by some Hezbollah allies as an assassination attempt on Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who was nowhere near the scene. Hezbollah’s allies then sought to implicate Mr. Jumblatt.

A victory for Hezbollah and its allies, chief among them President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Mr. Bassil, appeared entirely possible. In such a scenario Hezbollah would increase its domination of a country which is an economic shambles, damaging its own Shiite constituency that the movement says is the most disadvantaged sect in Lebanon.

But the three erstwhile rivals demonstrated the kind of guile that has enabled their political survival, maneuvering Hezbollah to a stalemate and an eventual about-face. Mr. Geagea, himself the target of a 1994 show trial that cost him 11 years in prison, spoke out to warn that Hezbollah and its allies were digging up ghosts from the past. Mr. Jumblatt remained largely quiet, working his domestic and international contacts. He occasionally made brief statements, calling on all involved to act rationally but making it clear he would not be sidelined by Hezbollah. The allegations might not have carried much significance were it not for Lebanon’s weak and divided judiciary. To stop the crisis escalating, Prime Minister Saad Hariri refrained from calling Cabinet meetings for fear they would be used to advance the possible prosecution of Mr. Jumblatt.

But paralyzing the Lebanese government brought risks of its own, not least of all further damage to the country’s economy. An economic meltdown appeared to be on Mr. Berri’s mind when he intervened this month to find a compromise, subtly siding with Mr. Jumblatt.

Mr. Berri is a long-time ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad. Gunmen belonging to Mr. Berri’s Amal Movement were sent to Beirut in 2008 to back a partial Hezbollah takeover of the capital. It was sparked by previous criticism from Mr. Jumblatt of the Shiite group’s insistence on retaining its arms and its links to Iran and Syria.

Syria’s former president, Hafez Al Assad, rewarded Mr. Berri for shelling Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut that were loyal to Yasser Arafat in the late 1980s by anointing him as parliamentary speaker in the political order that emerged after the war.

After the Taef agreement in 1989, Lebanon fell under the influence of the Syrian regime, which had 35,000 troops in the country until it was forced to withdraw them in 2005. Syrian agents are nominally wanted in Lebanon for the 1977 assassination of Mr. Jumblatt’s father, Kamal Jumblatt. His death forced Mr. Jumblatt to ally with Hafez Al Assad or face a similar fate. Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 to support Christian Maronites against an alliance of Arafat and Kamal Jumblatt. Hafez Al Assad later helped Mr. Jumblatt ethnically cleanse Maronites from parts of Mount Lebanon, as the then Syrian leader turned on the same Maronites he had helped earlier in the civil war, including militias to which Mr. Geagea had belonged. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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A Path for Political Change in Lebanon? Lessons and Narratives from the 2018 Elections
Nadim El Kak
Arab Reform Initiative, July 25, 2019

The latest Lebanese parliamentary elections took place a little over a year ago. In May 2018, eleven groups, comprised of 66 candidates (including 19 women) from independent and secular segments of civil society, formed a coalition called Kulluna Watani (we are all our nation) to challenge the hegemony of traditional political parties. Considering the increasing inefficiency and unaccountability of state institutions, and widespread public frustration with the performance of public institutions, one may have expected Lebanese voters to want to vote in a few fresh faces. Nonetheless, they overwhelmingly chose to re-elect the same parties and leaders. This paper examines why activists and progressive opposition groups who try to challenge entrenched sectarian politics have been failing. It analyses the institutional and repressive mechanisms, exercised by political elites, that determine patterns in voting behavior and thwart the emergence of alternative forces. It also looks at shortcomings of political efforts by opposition groups and outlines recommendations for the future. The findings rely on fourteen original interviews with political activists conducted in December 2018 as well as a review of scholarship on sectarian politics.1

Entrenching Power: Lebanon’s Post War System

Several of the main impediments to achieving political change in Lebanon lay in the foundations and modus operandi of its political system. The underpinnings of the power-sharing system (also known as confessionalism) date back to the late Ottoman period, when “sectarian identity [became] the only viable marker of political reform and the only authentic basis for political claims.”2 The National Pact of 1943 establishing the political foundations of the sectarian system turned out to be quite fragile.  Periods of crises culminated in a 15-year civil war, which ended in a novel redistribution of power amongst sects through the 1989 Taef Accord. The Accord was mostly a deal between former warlords to trade their military fatigues for ministerial jobs. The former warlords then became the gatekeepers to access government jobs and services and, in the process, developed extensive clientelistic networks. These networks operated largely on a sectarian basis with each leader servicing “his” community. Business elites were closely allied to these networks and a new class of wealth grew around these political leaders enabling them to distribute private-sector jobs. The net outcome was that citizens were increasingly dependent on their leaders to obtain jobs, get hired by certain companies, or simply gain access to hospitals and schools.3

Political elites were not just content with using state resources to further their interests. They made sure that electoral laws and voting districts were designed in a way to favor traditional sectarian leaders and prevent the rise of cross-sectarian or secular movements.4 Each election would thus be preceded by a period of intensive bargaining between the traditional political leaders to ensure that the electoral law and the voting district boundaries would benefit them. In many ways, these negotiations often predetermined the outcome of elections.

In 2013, the existing political class could not agree on a new electoral law and ended up postponing elections for five years instead of risking elections under a law that would weaken their traditional hold on power. They finally came to an agreement in June 2017 and adopted a new electoral law which introduced for the first-time proportional representation in the 2018 elections. 5 … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

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Hariri: UN, US Will Participate in Negotiations on Maritime Borders
Naharnet Newsdesk, Aug. 17, 2019

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that he heard support from the US administration for the Lebanese army, pointing out that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed during their meeting the US support for Lebanon politically and economically and the US keenness on resolving the land and maritime border demarcation issue. He said the US assistance to the Lebanese army continues and “we are negotiating the financial and economic assistance”.

Hariri’s stances came during a discussion with Arab correspondents in Washington after his meeting with Pompeo. He said the relationship between Lebanon and the United States is very important especially in terms of assistance it is giving in the displaced file and assistance for the Lebanese army and security forces.

He said: “We also seek to develop this relationship as there will be investments by US companies in Lebanon in the fields of oil, gas, electricity, and others, and we are working on the issue of land and sea borders so that we can begin negotiations. They have remarks on Lebanon linked to Hizbullah. There are sanctions threatening Lebanon. But it is my duty as prime minister to spare the Lebanese state these sanctions and to avoid any impact on the Lebanese economy. In this sense, we are keen to maintain continuous contact with the US administration. These meetings were also an occasion to talk about what is happening in the region, whether in the Gulf countries or in Syria, and we exchanged views on these matters.”

On the US sanctions against Hizbullah, Hariri said: “We cannot change the view of the American administration regarding these sanctions, but what we are trying to do is to spare Lebanon any consequences in this regard.”

He added: “In my opinion, these sanctions are not useful but they will certainly be tough on everything related to Iran, and on those who help it and communicate with it. We explained to them our point of view that Lebanon should be spared the consequences of these sanctions, and I think our message has been well received.”

As to whether the sanctions will affect Lebanese banks or financial institutions, Hariri said: “Everyone knows that the Americans issue their sanctions lists without any prior notification to the Lebanese state. There may be several queries about a specific institution or another, but I am sure that there is nothing tangible yet. “There was a precedent with the Lebanese Canadian Bank and we dealt with it as necessary, but there is too much intimidation in this subject. In fact, I heard praise from all the officials I met in the United States about the policy of the Central Bank and its Governor Riad Salame, but if there are any observations, we know how to deal with them.”
As for the possibility of sanctions targeting Hizbullah allies, Hariri said: “This talk takes place in the congress and last year there was an attempt to prepare such a text, but I don’t think we will reach this point.”

About the US administration’s position as per the performance of the Lebanese government, mainly on the issue of Hizbullah missile factories, the PM said: “We are trying to find the best way to avoid putting Lebanon in danger. It is not our role to play police for the Israelis. If we look at UNSCR 1701, we find that if there is a breach by Lebanon, in return the Israeli side violates the Lebanese airspace hundreds of times a day. We in Lebanon are working seriously, according to 1701, to move from the cessation of hostilities to ceasefire. For this to happen, a number of items must be applied, part of which relates to us, and the other part relates to them. But until now we don’t see any implementation from their side. The most important thing is to get negotiations started on the maritime borders, it is very important for Lebanon economically in terms of gas and oil. This issue is vital and important to us and perhaps to them too.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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The Drone Arms Race and Israel’s Enemies – Analysis
Yonah Jeremy Bob
Jerusalem Post, Aug. 25, 2019

As the opaque debate continues on whether the two drones that crashed in Beirut on Sunday were Israeli or Iranian, the dilemma that Israel faces remains clear: it does not have a comprehensive solution to drone attacks. Not only does Israel not have a defense against a mass drone strike that a variety of adversaries could attempt, but it has no answer to the massive disparity between the low-cost drones and the high cost of defense measures.

Israel has made some progress since the State Comptroller published a report in November 2017 describing how utterly unprepared Israel was to defend against drone attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran. Drones are smaller and harder to hit than the rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah. Highly maneuverable, they are more likely to penetrate deep into Israel in a coordinated attack.

To date, the IDF has downed some invading drones using air-to-air or land-to-air missiles. It has also missed some. And it has not yet faced a coordinated multi-drone attack that many believe would overwhelm the existing defenses. Knowing the IDF’s limitations at shooting down drones once they are airborne, much of Israel’s strategy has focused on destroying drone-producing factories and units before they are launched.

If the drones that crashed were Iranian, the fact that more than one was being used against Israel during a relatively short time period – though possibly not simultaneously – would be far more significant than Israel’s success this time at shooting them down. Whether they were Iranian or Israeli (the pictures distributed to date could be interpreted in either direction), defense experts have been saying for some years now that it is only a matter of time.

While private defense companies have developed solutions for jamming or taking control over some drones, to date their solutions are limited. In one development in July, the US Marine Corps’ Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) jammed an Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 meters of a Navy warship. The LMADIS system uses radar and cameras to scan the sky to detect drones and distinguish between friendly and hostile systems. It then uses radio frequencies to jam the drone. But the system and other similar systems can cost millions, and are still not considered reliable in the case of a mass drone attack.

Israel has confronted a similar cost dilemma before. In its arms race with Hamas and Hezbollah, Jerusalem pays far more per unit for each Iron Dome interceptor or other missile defense interceptor than its adversaries pay for their cheaply manufactured, often homemade rockets.

At a Maariv security conference in May, INSS fellow and former Israel Air Force major Liran Antebi noted that Israel was also at a disadvantage because even as it invested to improve its drone defense, the process was slow and highly bureaucratic. She said this could be problematic facing adversaries like Hamas and Hezbollah, which can quickly produce new threats without bureaucratic hurdles.

It remains unclear whether Israel successfully unveiled a new technology or otherwise downed Iranian drones, or lost its own drones. Regardless of what happened on Sunday in the skies over Beirut, the day when Israel will simultaneously need to defend against an armada of drones is fast approaching. If Israel waits to finding solutions to defend against a mass drone attack because of the economic disparity of asymmetric warfare, then just as it dithered in investing in technology to locate Hamas’ attack tunnels, the results could be far more disastrous than in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

 

For Further Reference:

 

Taking Cue From Hamas, Hezbollah Brings Arson Terror to Northern Border:  Israel Hayom, Aug. 20, 2019 — Iran-backed Hezbollah is copying the incendiary tactics employed by Gaza-based terrorist groups and is importing them to Israel’s northern border, Channel 12 News reported on Sunday night.

 

Hezbollah Preventing Start of Maritime Border Negotiations Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2019 — Internal Lebanese struggles are apparently holding up negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over demarcating their maritime border, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri pushing for the talks to begin, but facing resistance from Hezbollah.

Paraguay Designates Hezbollah as a Terrorist Organization:  Emanuele Ottolenghi, FDD, Aug. 20, 2019 — Paraguay on Sunday announced that it was designating Hezbollah as an international terrorist organization, thereby creating a new legal basis for taking action against Hezbollah’s money laundering and terror-finance activities.

 

Lebanon Debt Downgrade: Market Discipline or Voluntary Reforms?: Dr. Nasser Saidi, The National Business, Aug. 22, 2019 — Lebanon’s sovereign debt rating has been steadily deteriorating over the past five years while credit default swap rates have sharply risen, nearly doubling over the last year.