By General Monzer Al Ayyoubi

Translation: Dr. Pierre A. Sarkis**

Ever since the lightening Arab-Israeli War of 1967, better known as the Six-Day War, and during the ensuing years of military conflict between Israel and the Arab countries, the geographical burden of direct confrontation was forced upon, what Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser branded the Arab Rings Countries, which shared common borders with occupied Palestine, namely Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Despite some limited Arab success during these confrontations, such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War, setbacks most of the time caused Arabs additional territorial losses in the Golan Heights, the West Bank… However, Israeli leadership and staff recognized that waging a war against the Arab Rings States would shake and threaten Israel’s existence, and inflict severe losses on the country, in case all four Arab countries decided to fight as a unified front. In addition, Israel might be faced with the prospect of having to forcefully withdraw from territories it had already occupied. From this perspective, Israel adopted a strategy for dismantling these four fronts, known as “divide and conquer”, through the pursuit of diplomatic and political channels, with a backdrop based on applying tremendous coercion and pressure, in following the Stick and Carrot policy. The first step towards the execution of this policy was The Camp David Agreement in 1978, which established an isolated peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, followed in 1994 by a Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty, known as the Treaty of Wadi Araba. After that, came peace negotiations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Treaty of Oslo in 1993, which included principles for the creation of a transitional Palestinian self-rule authority.

In parallel, and without delving into details of the 1982 bloody Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the retreat of PLO fighters from Lebanon, followed by the Taif Accord, and the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the latter better known as the system of guardianship, it became obvious that the most important attribute, was the prevalence of calm on the Syrian-Israeli front, while the Lebanese Islamic Resistance Movement forced a humiliating withdrawal upon enemy Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. In digression, and with the growth of the power of the Islamic Resistance or Hizbollah, in equipment and manpower, came the July 2006 war which to a great extent imposed a new deterrence equation, despite very heavy losses inflicted on Lebanon, and in conjunction with UN Resolution 1701, issued by the UN Security Council, and the deployment of UN Emergency Forces, better known as United Nations Interim Forces In Lebanon (UNIFIL), in Southern Lebanon, South of the Litani River. Consequently, of all the Arab Ring Countries’ Fronts with Israel, the 120 km front in Southern Lebanon remains the only one well suited for confronting Israel, due to Hizbollah’s missile arsenal, which is highly sophisticated and precise in aiming at, and hitting Israeli targets. In a quick overview, it looks like the strategy and military doctrine adopted by Israeli leadership, managed to neutralize the Arab Ring Countries, all of which have several disunited, individual strategies. This was clearly exemplified in Arab military performance during all the different phases of conflict with Israel, to a point where enduring questions were raised, especially regarding inter-Arab conflicts, and the state of disintegration and mutual accusations of treachery.

From another perspective, Iranian influence spreading in the Region through its proxies Hizbollah in Lebanon, The Houthis in Yemen, The Iraqi Popular Mobilization (Al Hashad Al Shaabi), etc… created an existence anxiety for Arab Regimes, and the saying “conflict for existence not conflict of borders” showed that Arabs began to view Israel as the lesser enemy of the two, especially after the interference by Hizbollah in the military theaters outside Lebanon. This existence anxiety was thus translated into a policy of normalization between Arabs and Israelis in different domains, especially in matters of security.

After the US withdrawal from the Nuclear Accord with Iran, the Regional strategic climate retracted, especially after the US imposed an economic and financial blockade and sanctions on individuals and entities related to Iran, which Lebanon was not immune from. This led to a multi-faceted disintegration of state institutions and administrations, most important of which, was the pillaging of depositors’ money and the uncontrolled spread of the culture of corruption. This was due to the deficient, self-interest based performance of Lebanese officials and politicians, who were void of any loyalty or detachment, and who practiced religious and confessional alignments without any restraints. Consequently, all the principal values in politics, administration and society fell out, and Lebanon became the central focus of a compromise among politicians, through which, they would bite and snap at its remains as much as they possibly can. The Lebanese people never imagined they would reach such a state of poverty and destitution. Most detrimental were the Lebanese’s total loss of faith in a new Lebanon, thus creating the incentives for the immigration of cadres of the well-educated, the scientists, the medical professionals, and the all important youth.

Amid all these tremendous challenges, forming a government became an impossible task, despite the fact that its formation was realistically or morally valueless, and seems more or less, a last dose of oxygen to delay the date of death. Added to this, were attempts at pleading for new loans, or vaccines for Covid-19, that could limit the number of victims and infected. In the same context, the French Initiative for rescue, seems to be a mere mirage by now, especially after it became crystal clear that all Lebanese political chiefs, leaders of political parties, political movements, and political fronts with different interests, albeit same ideology, have been fiercely clinging to their proposals or visions, as it related to their external associations and internal ventures, which were void of any nationalistic principles for unity. The Arab and Gulf countries specifically, have abstained from providing the usual aid, which ceased to exist, due to the inevitable calculations in relation to the strategic confrontation with the defiant Iranian Axis. Added to this degraded and miserable political and economic situation, was the question of the negotiations for the demarcation of the sea lines with Israel, which were conducted under pressure from, and the auspices of the US, with the latter being very eager to protect Israeli interests in the excavation and investment of the oil and gas. Instead of having Lebanese military negotiators supported by a clear strategic, intelligent, and efficient vision, in order to force an end to negotiations, and start gas excavation, to both parties’ interest, it was apparent that the usual internal disagreements became one of the weak points in the negotiations, which was later suspended.

Clearly aimless, Lebanon began to draw blows from enemies, rivals and friends alike, for its tragic diagnosis as a “failed state”. In parallel, the small and intelligent Lebanese Army seemed to take the initiative, and to respond in confronting security threats, terrorist and fanatic fundamentalist organizations, while developing and expanding the efficiency of its fighting units, and in maintaining internal security. As for the regime, with its weak financial prospects, and the allocated sums of money, not commensurate with the amounts spent for the weddings of politicians’ children, it was not absolved from being targeted and undermined regarding its national role, and its subordination in the arming and training of the Army, with the purpose of creating, without any shame or decency, an atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt which fed distrust in the loyalty of the Army’s leadership and officers.

As far as Syrian refugees in Lebanon were concerned, it seems that different Lebanese parties were at odds, regarding the desires of the European and Arab countries in keeping the refugees, as a bargaining chip on the regional negotiating table, seeking a solution to the Syrian crisis. If Lebanese national interests, after years of the refugees’ displacement, require a transitional plan to be developed for their return to Syria, in coordination with the Russians, the realities of the matter prove that what is being laid on the table, is but a presumptive issue, using negotiating chips shrouded in mystery. At the Russian Air Base at Hamimim, on the outskirts of the city of Lattikia in Syria, and according to leaked reports, later mentioned in the media, a military-security Syrian- Israeli meeting was convened under the auspices of the Commander of Russian Forces in Syria, General Alexander Tchykov. The meeting included from the Syrian side, General Ali Mamlouk, Director of National Security, and Bassam Hasan, the advisor on security issues at the Presidential Palace of Immigrants. Representing the Israeli side were Gadi Eisenkot, the former Army Chief of Staff, and Ari Ben Minash, an ex-General from the Military Intelligence Directorate of Iranian origin, born in Tehran in 1951. For the Israelis, the most pressing issue was to contain Iran, and prevent it from supplying Hizbollah with arms, along with a demand for the withdrawal of all Iranian military advisors, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Hizbollah fighters from Syria. This should coincide with the redeployment of regular Syrian Army troops in Southern Syria, along the borders with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. UN forces, and those of the Russian Military Police would also deploy, as support for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), in order to observe the disengagement of forces, which is the original Israeli military strategy of “dismantling the front”, as mentioned earlier. Other issues listed by General Eisenkot remained marginal, such as restructuring the Syrian military institutions, and reinstating the defected Syrian officers, etc… Whether or not the meeting actually took place, Moscow had already hinted at the necessity of building a direct relationship between Damascus and Tel Aviv, paving the way for the return of the Syrian Regime to the International Community, followed by the lifting of sanctions.

From the motivational perspective, the success of the meeting served as support for Russian interests and its political orientation and goals in Syria, allowing her to disengage itself from field military partnership with Iran, while guaranteeing the latter’s geo-political interests in the region. As a second step, and in case of success, the agreement could include the redeployment of Turkish Troops to the North, and North-Eastern border areas of Syria, allowing the Syrian Regime to reinstate its jurisdiction over the city of Idlib, and the areas East of the Euphrates River. This would also allow the return to Syrian sovereignty, of Kurdish areas where US backed QASAD (Syrian Democratic Forces) have been deployed. However, this utopian path cannot be realized without Israeli momentum, cooperation and incentives, as it may well be considered an initial step towards the settling of the Syrian crisis.

Looking at the political scene, Iran seems to put the Hamimim Meeting under scrutiny in order to test the waters, in relation to the magnitude of Russian coordination with the Zionist state. Iran still considers the positioning of its forces in Syria a strategic and geopolitical matter, that cannot be determined except on the negotiating table, according to the progression of its different regional portfolios and their priorities, the most important being, that the new US Administration would rejoin the Nuclear Agreement 5+1, as well as, lift the sanctions and embargo imposed on it. Despite the deadliest Israeli air raids on its positions in Syria, with support from the US, and a blind eye from the Russians, Iran seems to be pursuing its policy of “disengagement of portfolios” in retaliation to Israel’s policy of “disengagement of fronts”. Tehran also recognizes that Tel Aviv very much prefers the sustainability and control of the Assad Regime which it supports, rather than dividing Syria into several different jurisdictions, ruled by fanatic Islamic and terrorist organizations. This was clearly stated by former Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, who said “we are not concerned with who takes control of Syria, Assad or others, so we will not enter into such dialogue”, reflecting Israel’s major concern about Iranian influence in Syria. Naftali Bennett, present-day Israeli Defense Minister, confirmed the continuation of air raids in Syria, until Iranian forces leave the country altogether. The Hamimim Meeting, thus, marks the beginning of a path beset by political minefields, whose timeline could drag or shorten based on the development of events, least of its indicators would be, a halt to Israeli air raids on Iranian positions in the Syrian interior. In parallel, Israeli television, channel 11, quoted from Israeli military sources that Tehran, and for the first time since it entered Syria, has started to reduce its forces and vacate some of its bases there.

On another note, US President Joe Biden was sworn in, in a very unusual ceremony, with the deployment of over 25000 Security Forces and National Guards around Capitol Hill, and with lifting and planting American flags in the park facing the Capitol, instead of the gathering of audiences. The most important matter was to consolidate one of the most prestigious democracies in the world, in a rebuke of those who tried to tarnish it in an unprecedented childish way. After President Biden took office, Americans went back to their daily life, keeping up with the steps to be taken in fighting COVID 19. More important, all attention was drawn to Wall Street which resumed its financial activities, with shares and stocks fluctuating up and down. In comparison, the really sad and unfortunate thing is that Lebanon, the small country, has become a theater of conflict between officials and politicians, vying for positions and interests without any restraint or conscience, amid a stifling livelihood crisis, with famine, starvation and endemic poverty knocking on people’s doors.

In conclusion, what a striking difference, between the beautiful things we saw happen in Washington, DC, on TV screens, and the unfortunate and shameful things we see and hear daily, on Lebanese TV stations- if anyone should consider the comparison. The Lebanese Nation has been used to failures despite its immense prospects. Lebanon, the most beautiful country in its nature and civilization, has been flagged along with its people, and overwhelmed by officials and oligarchs who practiced widespread corruption, who insulted the constitution of the Republic, and who distorted democracy. Then, they broke peoples’ backs by robbing their money, wealth, lives, and dreams. Hopefully, what British Playwright and Author, Peter Ustinov said, “corruption is a natural way to renew our faith in democracy”, would come true.