Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Anti-govt protests grew and clashes with security forces intensified as dire economic conditions continued to deteriorate and PM Diab’s announcement of new cabinet failed to appease protesters. Protests swelled mid-Jan as value of Lebanese Lira 13 Jan fell to 2,500 to the dollar in parallel market, 40% drop since Aug 2019, further eroding citizens’ purchasing power and leading private sector to cut salaries and central bank to limit cash withdrawals and transfers outside country. In Beirut, riot police 14 Jan clashed with protesters near central bank HQ, police arrested 57. Protesters next day gathered outside police station demanding demonstrators’ release and clashed with police, who arrested at least 55 more. Protests 18 and 19 Jan escalated in downtown Beirut as security forces attempted to disperse protesters with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving several hundred people injured. Diab 21 Jan announced new cabinet backed by Hizbollah and allied parties; parliament still has to give cabinet vote of confidence. Protesters rejected cabinet as part of elite they seek to oust. Lawmakers 27 Jan passed 2020 budget aimed at tackling economic crisis as protesters outside parliament clashed with security forces, at least 27 injured. UK, which classified Hizbollah in its entirety as terrorist organisation in March 2019, 17 Jan expanded asset-freezing measures, previously targeting military wing, to include Hizbollah’s political wing.
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The fate of the border town Arsal mirrors Lebanon’s many policy failures. The government applies heavy-handed security at the expense of basic services and fair economic opportunities. It should change its policies to become more flexible, accountable and supportive of Syrian refugees – and receive more international help in return.
Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction. If the Lebanese political class does not take immediate steps like holding long-overdue elections, fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, its complacency will only make an eventual fall harder and costlier.
Hizbollah’s intervention in Syria strengthens the Assad regime but transforms the Shiite movement as it redefines the enemy and itself within the confines of an increasingly sectarian struggle.
As the Syrian conflict increasingly implicates and spills over into Lebanon, a priority for its government and international partners must be to tackle the refugee crisis, lest it ignite domestic conflict that a weak state and volatile region can ill afford.
[The Trump administration] is content allowing Israel to take the lead in pushing back against Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria.
The real risk [for Israel and Lebanon] is that of a miscommunication or accident being a trigger of a conflict across their border.
[The return of Assad’s forces to the border] has the potential of creating a more united front of resistance between Lebanon and Syria against Israel.
Hezbollah thrives on its position of being a state within a state, an alternative provider for all kinds of things [when Lebanon's political institutions are weakened].
Hariri as [Lebanon's] Prime Minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt.
For months now, [Israel] has been sounding alarm bells about Hezbollah’s and Iran’s growing footprint in Syria, and about the Lebanese capacity to produce precision-guided missiles.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
The Israel-Lebanon border has been relatively quiet for the past 13 years. The latest tit-for-tat threatens the balance.
Originally published in The American Prospect
Lebanon’s elections yielded few surprises, says Crisis Group’s Lebanon, Syria and Iraq Project Director Heiko Wimmen in this Q&A. Hizbollah is slightly stronger and its main rival weaker. But the polls do represent a return to normalcy.
With the U.S. threatening a retaliatory response to apparent chemical attacks in Syria and escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, Crisis Group has raised the threat of confrontation to the highest possible level in its early-warning platform the Iran-U.S. Trigger List.
Eight members of International Crisis Group’s Council and Ambassador Council joined a trip to Lebanon alongside Crisis Group staff in November 2017 to examine the consequences of the Syrian war since 2011. In this op-ed and an accompanying video, Crisis Group supporters from the Council reflect on the Syrian refugees they met and Lebanon’s increased fragility as a result of its enormous new burdens.