Signs of stability in Lebanon
Contrary to the dire warnings of a number of Lebanon watchers, Lebanon’s plunge into instability from Syrian violence may not be as imminent as many fear.
In a late night chat with a friend over the recent tremor of instability from Syria that has shaken Lebanon in recent weeks the list we could come up for stability or non-engagement seemed stronger than the indicators of a further plunge into violence.
First the worrying signs:
· Syrian conflict leads to outbreak of Sunni/Shia tension. Particularly if events like the Shia kidnappings continue.
· Syrian conflict creates more Tariq al-Jadedieh like clashes of pro-Syrian regime Sunni groups vs. pro-opposition Sunni groups
· The rise of the armed Sunnis in the north turns north Lebanon into a launching grounds for the Free Syrian Army leading to Syrian intervention or pro-Syrian mobilization in Lebanon
Now these are all particularly legitimate concerns that could have serious long-term impacts on the balance of the country. But consider:
- Sunni / Shia leadership agreement: There is clearly a standing agreement between Sunni and Shia leaders to not let sectarian strife escalate. Nasrallah called for calm and Hariri offered to mediate almost immediately after Lebanese Shia were kidnapped in Syria. It was even reported that Hezbollah had deployed security in Dahiyeh over the weekend to diffuse protests from angry family members over the detentions.
- Close relationships: The enmity on the street is marked between some Sunni and Shia groups. But there is also a long history of close relationships and intermarriage.
- Asymmetry: For Sunni Shia tension to really rupture into fighting that means the involvement of Hezbollah, and there is no force in Lebanon currently that has any hope of taking on perhaps the best trained militia in the world. That creates a major of deterrent for Sunnis heading towards fighting. (We saw what happens when Sunni militias go up against Hezbollah in 2008) *Unless the Sunni militias engaged in asymmetric fighting against some of the world’s greatest asymmetric fighters, which is something interesting to think about.
- Christians wont play: So far there is no indication that the Christian groups have any interest in offering anything more than an occasional statement to this conflict. The country’s Geagea barometer told us, Geagea may feel “betrayed’ by the Islamist show of strength. And it’s hard to imagine FPM sending soldiers to the streets to fight for Syria no matter what Aoun’s alliances are.
At the moment it seems few signs point to civil war levels of violence in the country. On the contrary, signs of disengagement and peacemaking are showing that Lebanon may be more resilient to instability than many give it credit for.