As we enter July 2015, the situation in Lebanon continues to be unstable. Since May 2014, when President Michel Suleiman stepped down, there is no president in Lebanon. So far Lebanon’s Parliament has convened 25 times and consistently failed to elect a new president due to a lack of a quorum because of a boycott by parties who object to the candidates. Since then the political paralysis has contaminated both the parliament and now even the cabinet. The latest crisis centers on the nomination of new senior security figures and the extension of others past their mandates.
General Political Situation
Two main leaders are contending to become the next Lebanese president: Michel Aoun, 80, leading the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) a former acting president and army general. The other is Samir Geagea, 62, leading the Lebanese Forces (LF) Party, also a former army commander. Aoun’s 8 th March block is aligned with Hezbollah and he sees himself as the strongest candidate for the presidency. If it’s not enough, he will threaten to withdraw his ministers from the government if his son-in- law, Brig. Gen. Shamel Roukouz, will not be appointed Chief of the Army, the position held by General Jean Qahwaji until September of this year.
Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, an independent appointment from former president Sleiman, has already extended the term of two generals including the Intelligence minister, a step unacceptable to Michel Aoun who believes that it is contradictory to Lebanon’s national defense law.
While Israel is worried about the latest development in Syria, we shouldn’t forget to keep an eye on south Lebanon where Hezbollah is known as Israel’s main foe, but other factors may destabilize south Lebanon.
Refugees in the south.
According to the UNHRC there are some 140,000 Syrian refugees in South Lebanon. If the Syrian conflict worsens there is no doubt that more refuges will move to the south. Some believe that the poor towns and villages of the north have reached their absorption capacity, and that refugees may believe they have more chances of finding work in the south. Pressure on the host communities will grow and implications such as social problems, job competition, unemployment, hunger and crime will increase.
And if the refugee headache wasn’t enough, south Lebanon is also suffering from droughts (as part of the decrease in rainfall over the Mediterranean basin). Last year it was reported that the drop-in precipitation has likely accelerated the water crisis, but the shortage has always been a topic of repeated warnings by experts and the symptoms have started to emerge in the south through the loss of olives and the seedlings of vegetables before they mature.
Last summer, demonstrations of Lebanese farmers were spotted on the security fence with Israel and caused tension along the blue line. A concrete example is the dispute around the Nabi Shuayb well in Blida; tensions heightened due to the marking of the blue Line between Israel and Lebanon. According to Lebanese sources, the well has been used by local residents for many years. However, the marking process of the Blue Line (which began in 2009) has confirmed that the well actually lies about a meter on
the Israeli side of the blue Line. Twenty years ago, farmers were able to get water from wells at the depth of ten meters, but today the depth of wells has increased and is between 40 to 100 meters. This
situation affects the agricultural sectors which highly rely on ground water for irrigation in the summer seasons.
The drought is also exacerbating tensions between the host communities and Syrian refugees and so far, the ongoing political crisis in Beirut has resulted in only ineffective measures to ease the drought (one of the most recent ideas was to import water from Turkey).
Rise of Sunni extremism and Israel?
At the border triangle of Israel, Lebanon and Syria lay isolated villages populated by a majority of Sunni Moslems. The area is known as Arkoub, which includes Shebaa, Kfar Shuba, Hebarieh and Kfar Hamam. This area is bordered by Druze and Shiite villages. Tension in this area already exists and the recent developments on the Golan Heights have fueled the friction between the Druze and the Sunnis. Previously, an incident was reported in 2013 when a Druze sheikh was killed in Hasbaya. Before that, a clash erupted between the Druze village of El-Mari and the majority Sunni Ain Arab in April 2012. At the time, those events caused prominent political figures to intervene and calm down the area.
There are feelings of injustice, discrimination and inequalities between the different sects in Lebanon; the Sunni community feels oppressed. The lack of leadership (Saad Hariri, the son of the slain former PM Rafik Hariri, is perceived as a weak leader) and the Roumieh incidents (Lebanon’s largest prison infamous for its overcrowding and harsh treatment) are only highlighting the malaise within the Sunni community.
It is in this atmosphere that some Sunnis in the south are becoming Salafists and supporters of Jamaa al-Islamiyya, the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Lebanon. The south has witnessed increasingly conservative trends such as bans on alcohol and a return to more traditional Islamic burials.
We have to remember that last summer this group was held responsible for firing rockets into Israel. Furthermore and to add complexity to the reality in South Lebanon, some elements affiliated with Jamaa al-Islamiyya fought alongside Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
All of these ingredients – the ongoing fighting in Syria, the flow of refugees and decrease in resources in Lebanon – could become a dangerous cocktail, adding to the existing sensitivities vis-a- vis Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and the expansion of ISIS.