The commander of Lebanon's armed forces instructed his troops, which are celebrating recent victories against jihadi groups on the country's restive eastern border with Syria, to be fully ready to deal with a potential attack from Israel.
On the eve of the country's 74th anniversary of independence from France, the Lebanese military commander, Joseph Aoun, commended soldiers for successfully expelling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as Nusra Front, from the outskirts of eastern towns such as Arsal, Ras Baalbek and Hermel this summer. He warned, however, that current "exceptional political circumstances" required personnel to "maintain the utmost awareness and vigilance and to take measures to maintain stability," especially looking south, where another foe stands at the ready.
"I call on you to be fully prepared at the southern border to face the threats from the Israeli enemy, its violations and its hostile intent towards Lebanon, its people and its army, as well as to always ensure the implementation of Resolution 1701 in coordination and cooperation with United Nations forces in Lebanon, preserving a secure stability," Aoun said Tuesday, according to the Lebanese army's official Twitter account.
While the small, coastal Mediterranean country's most recent conflicts have been concentrated on its eastern border with Syria, there is a long, bloody history of violence at its southern border with Israel. Like Syria and a number of other Arab states, Lebanon has never recognized Israel since the majority-Jewish state's 1948 creation that saw a mass expulsion of Palestinians, a number of whom ended up in Lebanon. These Palestinians were joined by others expelled after a failed uprising against the Jordanian government in 1971, and Lebanon became a base of guerrilla operations against Israel, which responded with military action.
While Hezbollah's backing for Assad—who also received support from Russia, Iran and other local and foreign militias—has helped allow the Syrian leader to regain the vast majority of land conquered by rebels and militant groups trying to unseat him, its role in Syria has infuriated influential actors rooting for Assad's downfall, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Saad Hariri finally returned to Beirut late on Tuesday amid tight security after what was essentially a two week house arrest in Riyadh which began on November 4 after his resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia. Lebanese television aired live footage of the former prime ministers plane landing, though he left without addressing the expectant throng of journalists gathered at the airport.
His shocking resignation, which President Michel Aoun has refused to formally accept, came amidst Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's (MBS) aggressive crackdown within the royal family and against high officials, which resulted in the deaths of at least two princes, and the arrests of at least a dozen others. And, in the latest Wednesday morning development in this ongoing saga, Hariri said he has changed his mind and has puts his resignation on hold at the request of the country’s president.
In televised comments quoted by Reuters, Hariri said that he “presented my resignation to President Aoun today and he urged me to wait” for more dialogue. “I showed responsiveness to this hope.” Hariri also denied reports that Riyadh forced him to step down. He says the claims that Saudi Arabia was keeping him against his will are merely “rumors.”
Meanwhile, as reported previously, in the midst of MBS' purge, new revelations emerged and were confirmed of an official Saudi-Israeli intelligence sharing relationship targeting Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Though Hariri tried to calm Lebanese fears during an awkward and likely coerced televised interview from Riyadh, saying, "Resignation could be withdrawn if Lebanon sticks to its policy of disassociation [from Hezbollah/Iran/Syria]. I was at my home [in Saudi] and not The Ritz [in reference to the detained Saudi princes]" - he didn't immediately return to Lebanon, instead traveling to France last Saturday to meet with President Macron.
Some analysts dubbed Hariri's strange travels an Odysseus style exile and wandering as he left France for Egypt to meet with Sisi, after which he arrived in Cyprus to meet with that nation's president, before finally returning to Lebanon. And according to reports Hariri is now at his home in Beirut as Lebanon is set for independence day celebrations on Wednesday.
Yet since Hariri's over two week long odyssey, regional powers have threatened war resulting in both the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah being placed on "high alert" with Syria also promising to present a united front with Hezbollah should Israel escalate.
And what come's next for Lebanon and the region? Below is a dispatch authored and submitted by Elijah Magnier, Middle East based chief international war correspondent for Al Rai Media, who is currently on the ground in the region and spoke to a high level source and decision maker privy to diplomatic discussions regarding the current crisis.
No matter how loud the US, the Israelis and the Arabs scream, Hezbollah’s presence in Syria is linked to the Syrian government and to no one else.”
The return of Hariri is obviously linked to a Saudi agenda where he will ask Hezbollah to pull out of Syria, Yemen and Iraq and put down its weapons. It should be noted that Hezbollah supported Hariri’s freedom because he was illegally detained by Saudi Arabia and because he is the Prime Minister of Lebanon. Saudi Arabia cannot be allowed to deal with the Lebanon as if it were a Saudi province. And for Hariri it is illusory to believe he is returning to Lebanon as a hero to dictate Saudi policy, that he can implement Saudi Arabia’s wishes, and that he can achieve what the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia failed to obtain.
It is therefore not a question of Iran or the weapon reserves of Hezbollah or its regional military intervention. The war in Syria was won by the “Axis of the Resistance” and the other side (US, EU, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) has failed to change the regime, to destroy the multi-ethnic culture in Syria, and to tie the hands of the extremists. It is simply a question of Saudi Arabia preparing a wider, overt relationship with Israel.
Saudi Arabia is acting as if it needs this scenario to cover up its future relationship with Israel. Every day, we see Saudi academics, writers and even officials using the excuse “fighting Iran, the common enemy” to justify the forthcoming relationship with Israel. In point of fact Israeli public opinion is ready to welcome Saudi Arabia, and vice versa.
The Arab countries have promised to establish an official relationship with Israel in exchange for the heads of Hezbollah and Iran on a plate. In return the US and Israel promised to engage positively with the Israeli-Arab conflict.
This is no solution for the Israeli-Arab conflict, and Trump can certainly not fulfil his promises. Israel won’t give up to the Arabs what it is getting for free (the relationship with the Gulf countries). Those running to establish ties with Tel Aviv are coming of their own free will in order to use Israel as a bridge to the US. On the other hand, even the new US-Saudi-Israel alliance will be unable to deliver those heads of Iran and Hezbollah without engulfing the region in a global war. Are these countries ready for such a war where the costs outweigh the benefits?
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