Lebanon’s election at center of US-Russian tug of war
Shortly after visiting US Vice President Joseph Biden stated in Beirut Friday, May 22, that his government would assess future aid to Lebanon according to the outcome of its June 7 general election, Moscow announced that foreign minister Sergei Lavrov would visit Damascus and Beirut on May 23-25. He would be meeting Syrian president Bashar Assad as well as the Lebanese president Michel Suleiman.
Biden, the highest-ranking US official to visit Lebanon in more than two decades, told a news conference after meeting president Suleiman that the Obama administration would “evaluate the shape of its assistance program based on the policies of the new government.”
He urged “those who think about standing with the spoilers of peace not to miss this opportunity to walk away.” This was an apparent reference to Hizballah and its pro-Syrian allies, who are fighting to displace the pro-Western coalition, although Biden denied that he backed any party. Later, he met prime minister Fouad Siniora and parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that Lavrov’s trip is mean to convey that, unlike Washington, Moscow is well-connected on both sides of Lebanon’s political spectrum, the pro-Western majority March 14 bloc fighting for survival as well as its challenger, the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian Hizballah-led March 8 alliance.
Since the race between them is close, Obama sent Biden over to Beirut to back president Suleiman and make it clear that, if the right side wins, US defense aid will be available to the Lebanese army, including tanks, helicopters, drones and artillery.
However, the American visitor found the pro-Western camp in low spirits, convinced that if Hizballah loses the election, its leader Hassan Nasrallah will be helped by his Iranian and Syrian sponsors to seize power by force. Lebanese media are reporting that whatever the results, the March 8 alliance has determined to establish the Third Republic of Lebanon under its leadership.
This outcome would be a serious setback for Washington’s Middle East policies and devalue its standing in the region.