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US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is visiting Lebanon at the head of a high-profile delegation, while internal chaos intensifies, crises intensify, and economic collapses continue.
It is true that Noland’s program in Lebanon will be expressive, especially in terms of her meeting with representatives of civil society and the forces seeking to remove the current political class, but the most important are the capitals that the American official will include in the tour, which included Beirut among them, and what I mean here is basically the Moscow station.
Since the summit between the US and Russian presidents took place in mid-June, talk has been escalating about preparations being made to conclude a comprehensive deal between the two countries, including the Syrian file. There are rapid developments that are taking place and pushing towards the completion of this deal. On top of these developments is the continuous American talk about Washington’s military withdrawal from the region, in order to devote itself to the China file. Certainly, no one expects a complete and final withdrawal, but indications suggest a lowering of the American interest in the details of the Middle East, which must be preceded by major understandings with the Russian bear, the strong player in the region.
According to the principle that nature rejects a vacuum, the US withdrawal, even if partial, will push Iran to progress, especially in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, it is obvious that Russia will work to be the one who fills the void, especially since the recent US retreat has made Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Israel move in the direction of Moscow.
It is true that Washington has become less dependent on Middle Eastern oil, but many international powers are still dependent on it, including China, which makes the Americans obligated to arrange understandings that preserve their interests before reducing their presence in the region.
It suffices to point out, for example, that China is seeking to infiltrate the three strategic maritime sites in the region, namely the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab and the Suez Canal. Iran remains present to annoy Washington and extract valuable cards from it, even at the expense of China.
On the other hand, Moscow has mastered the language of negotiations and the sharing of interests with Washington, since the Soviet Union and the United States of America agreed to manage their interests during the Cold War era. Therefore, in contrast to the media rivalries that sometimes appear, the American-Russian communication is permanent and continuous. Common interests are broad, multiple, and varied, and they are also often intertwined.
For example, Moscow has expressed its deep concern, indeed its concern, over the rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Kremlin is suspicious of US intentions, and worried about the rapid expansion of extremists towards Central Asian countries, and the threat to Russia’s vital security field. It’s a game of punches that Moscow understands so well.
It is said that Victoria Noland had arrived in Moscow with new ideas about the situation in Syria and the Iranian file in her bag. Although the Russian leadership is suffering from an economic crisis, one of the reasons for which is due to the costs of the war in Syria, it avoids any strategic dispute, whether with Iran or with Turkey. Russian interests intersect to a large extent with Iran and Turkey, despite the presence of many differences on the ground. It was said that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian raised with Russian officials during his visit to Moscow the Russian measures taken in southern Syria, which limit the movement of Iran and its allies militarily. The answer of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was that Russia would not accept additional bloodshed. Of course, the Iranian official was not convinced by the Russian answer, and he knows perfectly well that Russian-Israeli relations are in their golden age. But Moscow turns a blind eye to Iran’s consolidation of influence in Damascus and its environs. In addition to opening cultural and religious centers, there are demographic changes that occur and Arab countries complain about. Hence Moscow’s advice to the Gulf states about the necessity of opening up to the Syrian regime and not leaving it alone in the arms of Iran.
In order to lure Russia further, Iran is seeking to arrange a strategic agreement with it similar to the one that was arranged with China, as long as the economy is Russia’s weak point.
On the other hand, Moscow rejects any military solution in Idlib, and this comes within the framework of the policy of balances between Iran and Turkey in Syria. The northern region, which is subject to the Turks, covers an area of about 18,000 km2. In this region, there are about 24,000 regular Turkish soldiers, except for the militias loyal to Turkey. In Idlib, successive steps have been taken to Turkify the population, which means preparing for a long-term presence, to the extent that a high-ranking UN official described what is happening as turning northern Syria into a second Alexandretta Brigade.
While Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is preparing for his first official visit to Russia to meet with Russian President Putin in Sochi on January 22 to discuss Iran, Syria and the nuclear agreement, the US Deputy Secretary of State’s visit to Moscow came with new ideas on the Syrian file, based on securing Russia’s interests and dedicating The role of Turkey and the “tuning” of Iran’s role. It is clear that there is evidence of a serious movement around Syria more than ever before. It is hoped that it will reflect positively on the overwhelming chaos taking place in Lebanon, even in an indirect way. Finally, Russian officials told the Iranians that allowing chaos to escalate in Lebanon would harm Russia’s interests in Syria. The message was clear that the situation in Lebanon must be kept under a specific ceiling, or else Russia will be forced to protect its interests.
Nuland will discuss in Beirut the gas pipeline from Egypt to Lebanon, through Jordan and Syria. It is a vital measure for Lebanon that is mired in darkness and threatened with complete dissolution and the demise of what remains of the state’s structure. This line won an unwritten US exemption from the “Caesar Act” penalties. More importantly, this line has a vital humanitarian title, but its background is political and has to do with the next stage or the stage after the nuclear agreement and the lifting of sanctions on Iran.
In Beirut, too, the French envoy, Pierre Dukan, warned the pillars of the authority that time had become short for the government, which must begin reforms before the end of this year at the latest. Dukan is aware that his president, Emmanuel Macron, will drown in the presidential elections after the end of the year, and Lebanon will also plunge into the expected electoral campaigns. What is required of the government are three urgent files, first of all, reforms, by starting talks with the International Monetary Fund, and second, an immediate treatment of electricity and approval of the regulatory body as soon as possible, and third, organizing parliamentary elections. However, the government, which seems incapable of movement, has sunk into the file of the port’s investigations and called on “Hezbollah” to remove the judicial investigator, Judge Tariq Al-Bitar.
Therefore, the visit of the American official seems important, especially on its Russian station, which some hope will harm the Lebanese file, even in an indirect way. It is true that the Iraqi elections took place smoothly and quietly, but their results may negatively affect the Lebanese parliamentary elections, because there are those who will become increasingly apprehensive.
However, chaos in Lebanon has a ceiling determined by overlapping and intertwined regional balances and interests. Just as the government was imposed despite the “gluttony” of the interests of the Lebanese political class, shooting at the government with the aim of killing it is forbidden, and is considered a transgression of the red line. It may be permissible to freeze its operation for some time, despite the enormous harm that results from this.
Suffice it to refer to the exchange rate of the dollar.