The International Crisis Group released today (22/11) a report on the impact of the Syrian civil war on Lebanon’s stability, followed by a list of recommendations to the main parties and actors involved. The release of the report, “A Precarious Balancing Act: Lebanon and the Syrian Conflict“, coincides with Lebanon’s Independence Day. Middle East Strategic Perspectives is reproducing the introduction of the Report and the Crisis Group’s recommendations:
For some time already, Lebanon’s political system has been in unspoken turmoil. Its foundations have been shaken. The 1989 Taef accords, which paved the way out of a fifteen-year civil war, rested on a complex equilibrium – between Riyadh and Damascus; between Israel and the Arab world; between Syria’s stabilising and disruptive role; between Christians and Muslims; and between Sunnis and Shiites. Long outmoded, that balancing act no longer is workable or even relevant; the nature of the political structure has remained static even as everything beneath and around it underwent wholesale transformation.
This reality, long ignored by local actors intent on preserving the status quo, has been made blindingly evident by the Syrian conflict. For Lebanon’s various actors, it is a harbinger of vast transformations around the corner – in the domestic balance of power; inter-confessional relations; and regional alliances – for which they are wholly unprepared and which each views in fundamentally different ways, as godsend or as calamity. This report examines the impact Syria’s civil war already is having on Lebanon, how local political actors are positioning themselves and are likely to react to future developments, and what can be done to ensure that the country’s fragile equilibrium survive the coming earthquake.
To prevent a short-term escalation of violence
To Lebanese Political Parties:
1. Form a new government that:
a) is composed of technocrats who are members of neither the March 14 nor March 8 coalitions and agree not to stand in the 2013 parliamentary elections;
b) prepares for the 2013 elections; and
c) commits to Lebanon’s abstention on all Syria-related decisions at the UN, Arab League and other regional and international bodies.
2. Commit to a quick, thorough and independent investigation of Wissam Hassan’s assassination, possibly with international technical assistance if necessary.
3. Seek to insulate Lebanon from the impact of the Syrian conflict by, inter alia:
a) refraining from direct involvement in that conflict, specifically Hizbollah stopping the dispatch of fighters and the Future Current halting the supply of weapons across the border;
b) protecting border villages, possibly with more robust Lebanese army deployment combined with March 14 and March 8 outreach to their respective Syrian allies to halt Syrian army shelling and Syrian rebels’ use of these areas to smuggle arms and fighters; and
c) ensuring adequate living conditions for Syrian refugees by providing humanitarian assistance; defining explicit rules under which security services can act against Syrian nationals while preventing arbitrary detention or deportation of opponents to Syria; and holding accountable Lebanese involved in the abduction, illegal arrest or ill-treatment of Syrian nationals.
To Regional and International States:
4. Accept the current government’s and any future government’s “dissociation policy”, and refrain from pressuring Lebanon to adopt a more aggressive stance in favour of the Syrian regime or opposition.
5. Refrain from using Lebanese territory to channel weapons from and to Syria.
6. Assist refugees by increasing funding to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, international and national organisations.
To UN Agencies and Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs):
7. Extend humanitarian support to the most deprived Lebanese families and those hosting refugees in areas of high refugee presence.
8. Involve Lebanese communities in the support of Syrian refugees by organising volunteer relief programs.
To address longer-term issues susceptible to provoke conflict or rise tensions within Lebanon
To Lebanese Political Parties:
9. Ensure an immediate and fair judicial process for Islamist prisoners held in indefinite detention.
10. Address the conflict between Tripoli’s Jabal Mohsen and Bab Tebbaneh districts by deploying the army between and within the two neighbourhoods; arresting militiamen engaging in provocative acts or violence; and improving basic services, notably public education.
11. Bolster the army’s role and capacity, in particular by withdrawing any protection extended by Lebanese factions to their supporters found in breach of the law.