Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sparring over Yemen

The war in Yemen is leading to potentially dangerous divisions in Lebanon, reports Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

The war in Yemen has sparked off rounds of rhetorical sparring in Lebanon, pitting the pro-Iranian Hezbollah group against the pro-Saudi Future Current.

As Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, hurled abuse against the Saudis, even his usual supporters flinched. Sunnis and Christians who have traditionally sided with the Shia Hezbollah and Syria are also distancing themselves from Nasrallah’s tirades.

Meanwhile, Future Current, which is still holding reconciliation talks with Hezbollah, has been unrelenting in its support for Operation Decisive Storm, the ten-nation Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthis, a local Shiite group that is increasingly portrayed as an Iranian proxy army in Yemen.

A recent tweet by Saad Al-Hariri taunted Nasrallah. “Don’t lose your cool, dear one, it is only a decisive storm,” the leader of Future Current said.

Hezbollah and the Saudis have had their spats in the past, but never before has the Lebanese Shiite group engaged in such tirades against the key Gulf nation.

For example, Hezbollah issued a statement denouncing “Al-Saud,” the dynasty that founded, named and still rules Saudi Arabia, in a manner that was not just demeaning but also suggested that their rule was illegitimate.

Some of Hezbollah’s supporters are also lashing out at the Saudis.

The Druze journalist and politician Wiam Wahhab, leader of Tawhid Current, a small party that is a member of the Hezbollah-led 8 March Movement, recently praised the “resistance axis” in Najd and Hejaz, the geographical components of the state known today as Saudi Arabia.

His remarks were meant to give encouragement to Shia extremists in Saudi Arabia, who consider the current government to be a force of “occupation.”

Although Hezbollah is trying to not use sectarian terms in its media offensive against the Saudis, its Sunni allies and friends inside and outside Lebanon are concerned not just about Hezbollah’s bravado but also about Iranian ambitions in the region.

Privately, many Sunnis say that they have been willing to stand by Hezbollah and the Syrian regime because they see them as forces of resistance, but they cannot support Hezbollah when its positions pose threats to the region’s overall security.

Hezbollah’s closest friend in Lebanon is perhaps Nabih Berri, the Lebanese parliamentary speaker and leader of the Shiite Amal Movement. In recent weeks, it has become clear that Berri’s take on the Yemen crisis is totally independent from Hezbollah’s.

Berri is seeking to promote a dialogue on the crisis and has been careful not to offend the Saudis. He recently had talks with the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Awad Asiri, who had publicly chastised Hezbollah for lambasting his country.

Even Hezbollah’s Christian and Druze allies are having a hard time stomaching its campaign against the Saudis.

Michel Awn, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has refrained from backing Hezbollah’s recent tirades, and Talal Arsalan, a key Druze figure, has also stayed out of the melée.

Powerful Maronite leaders, including Samir Jaajaa, leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, and Amin Al-Jumayyel, leader of the Phalangist Party, are siding with the Saudis in the current dispute.

On the up side, both Hezbollah and Future Current are making sure that their talks, which are sponsored by Berri, go on uninterrupted.

Even after lashing out at each other, Nasrallah and Al-Hariri usually end their verbal assaults by stressing the need to press on with the dialogue. But the rhetoric has been so disruptive that one may wonder how much progress can be made under such tensions.

Other countries inside and outside the region are not in favour of Lebanon losing its head over Yemen. The US is trying to calm things down in Lebanon and keeps offering support to the army in its fight against the “terrorists.”

The Lebanese army is said to be trying to mend fences between Washington and Hezbollah. Everyone is aware that Lebanon’s peace is fragile, its sectarian composition is inflammable and that if it is allowed to sink into a morass of hostilities the consequences could be disastrous.

Given the large number of Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps in the country, how hard would it be for rival factions to recruit fighters at will? With all the sectarian mistrust, what kind of sympathies would the jihadists be able to generate among the Sunni Arabs in northern Lebanon, in Akkar, for example?

More than any other country, Lebanon is well suited to a war between the Shia and the Sunnis. This is why everyone is doing their best to keep this from happening, Hezbollah’s antics aside.

Lebanon’s interior minister, Nouhad Machnouk, a staunch supporter of Future Current, continues to coordinate closely with Hezbollah. Machnouk is close to the Saudis and has been critical of Hezbollah’s policies. However, he is consulting with the army and Hezbollah on all types of security matters.

This is the kind of tightrope walking that many Lebanese politicians have to do today. Making things harder is the fact that the country has been without a president for almost a year.

Michel Aoun, a close ally of Hezbollah, still wants to be the next president. But some say he may drop his claim for the presidency if his son-in-law, Shamel Roukoz, is made the Lebanese army chief.

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