Lebanon, Syria & Saudi Arabia: Alone Together

January 20, 2011

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, right, meets with Saudi King Abdullah, center, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, upon their arrival at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 30, 2010. The leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented effort Friday to defuse fears of violence over upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

A peaceful resolution to the current conflict in Lebanon suddenly seems like a distant pipe dream, as the collapse of the country’s government last week has resulted in the worst political crisis that the region has seen in years.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal announced on January 19 that the Saudi kingdom is withdrawing from its mediation efforts in Lebanon.  Adding to the contention this week is the UN-authorized Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigation of the former prime minster’s assassination, which will potentially result in the indictment of prominent leaders from the region’s militant Shiite political party, the Hezbollah.

This makes a Lebanese civil war an imminent possibility save an understanding between Saudi Arabia and the other middleman in the region’s ongoing conflict, Syria.  Action from the Hezbollah remains a looming threat as alliances unexpectedly break and relationships suddenly shift within the region.

The appearance of relative civility in Lebanon has made it the Middle East’s top prospect for peaceful cohabitation between varying religions and ethnicities.  Now, this precarious state of peace is tenuously dependent upon how these regional relationships shift, as Saudi completely abandoning Lebanon and leaving Iran to dominate the region would lead the nation right to the doorstep of civil war.  Syria, Qatar and Turkey know that this political instability will result in social problems for their own countries, and are trying to rally an international conference to assist Lebanon in quickly establishing some form of government.

Saudi Arabia and Syria are waiting for each other to return to the negotiation table because of their interests in containing Iran and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, respectively. While all three countries hang in a state of suspension, Lebanon will probably engage in what their long history of violence and mediation have caused them to become exceptionally well-versed in—accommodationist politics.



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