THE BLOG
01/11/2014 01:36 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2014

Role of International and Regional Powers in the Neo-Jihadists Rise in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon

Everyone knows that the political process for Syria's future, to be launched at the Geneva 2 conference scheduled for January 22, is only the public part of the negotiations and bargains taking place between international and regional powers, while the elements of the grand bargain are drafted in secret meetings and through back channels. Nevertheless, to have representatives from the Syrian government and the opposition sit together at an international table with clear rules to discuss the future of their country and agree on a transitional body with full powers, including in security and military matters, is indeed a major development with profound implications. The concern is not over the guidelines that the Secretariat of the United Nations and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, veteran negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, have set forth. Brahimi has extensive experience in conducting such negotiations, including in Afghanistan where he had helped guarantee women's participation in decision making as part of a clearly defined "quota," and as a key partner in shaping the future. Rather, the concern stems from the dictates of regional and international powers on the Syrian parties to the conflict, both the government and the opposition, to contain their negotiations and attitudes -- not for the sake of Syria's future, but to satisfy considerations related to rivalries and bargains, whether bilateral or multilateral.

The Syrian government has agreed to attend Geneva 2 based on its own interpretation of the purpose of this conference, rather than on a commitment to its clearly stated frame of reference, namely, implementing the Geneva 1 communiqué stipulating the establishment of a transitional authority with full powers that would replace the present administration led by President Bashar al-Assad. The regime in Damascus is acting on the basis that its understanding of the conference's objectives -- as it declares it -- invalidates the essence of the conference, as stipulated in the messages sent by the United Nations to all participants, be they the Syrian government, opposition, or other countries. The countries that support Damascus, led by Russia, Iran, and China, are betting on the Syrian opposition refusing to attend Geneva 2 in order to blame the opposition for the latter's failure. For one thing, this would help delegitimize the Syrian opposition, leaving the regime in Damascus in a position where it would be the sole legitimate party, according to the thinking of the Russian-Iranian-Chinese-Syrian axis and its proxies.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has refused to explicitly endorse the frame of reference and stated goals of Geneva 2, i.e., the implementation of the Geneva 1 communiqué. For this reason, the UN Secretary-General did not send an invitation to Iran in the first round of invitations, pending the outcome of the negotiations between the real sponsors of the Geneva 2 process, namely, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, regarding Iran's role in the conference. Tehran is not troubled by the prospect of not attending Geneva 2, according to informed sources. Logically speaking, Iran's presence in such a conference would lend legitimacy to its role in Syria, but it would also embarrass Iran and expose it to pressure the moment it is publicly labeled as a country directly concerned with what is happening in Syria. Indeed, the Iranian leadership has always preferred back channels and secret negotiations, such as the ones pursued by William Burns, assistant U.S. secretary of state, for several months in Geneva as well as in Oman with the Iranians.

The priority for Iran, in the international context, is to revive UN Security Council Resolution 598 on the Iraq-Iran war, which contains a clause relating to regional security arrangements. This would practically replace the existing security regime in the Gulf region. Iranian diplomacy is working behind the scenes on persuading the international community that Iran is ready for a new regional order bringing it together with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Hidden behind the diplomacy of "broad smiles" are the details of a new security regime in which Iran wants to be the dominant force. In practice and on the ground, Iran's push in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon is a fateful battle with expansionist goals. Tehran is fighting this battle with Russian and Chinese support, and American blessing. The UN is also deliberately exempting Tehran from accountability over its violations of international resolutions, and its direct military intervention in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon through the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC), through political dominance and proxy militias in Iraq, and through its ally in Lebanon - Hezbollah - whose troops are publicly fighting in Syria.

The danger also lies in the fact that the United States and European countries now perceive Hezbollah, the regime in Damascus, and their Iranian backer as de facto allies in the fight against Sunni terrorism, or what is today termed the "Takfiris." It was decided to enter into a partnership with the three poles regardless of whether Washington has classed Hezbollah or the Quds Force as terrorist groups. More dangerous still is the willingness of the so-called international community to sacrifice Lebanon as yet another offering in this false war.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has a major responsibility in preventing a member state from falling into an abyss as a result of regional and international decisions. Article 99 of the UN Charter authorizes the Secretary-General to convene the Security Council if the latter should fail to exercise its duties in safeguarding international peace and security. The article entitles the Secretary-General to exercise the moral and political leadership assigned to his office. It may be too late for Ban Ki-Moon to act on the basis of Article 99 in the Syrian issue, no matter how frustrated he might feel over the Security Council's failure on Syria, and its role in inviting havoc to this country and precipitating a humanitarian catastrophe that the major powers have all contributed to making. However, Ban Ki-moon can act toward a small country today caught between the jaws of bombing, extremism, terrorism, and subjugation with regional sponsorship, tearing away at the country while international powers deem its crisis insignificant and a byproduct of the Syrian conflict, and so refrain
from saving it.

Ban Ki-moon can save Lebanon from "Somalization," "Iraqization," "Afghanization," or even "Syrianization," if he shows some determination to do so and acts on the basis of Article 99 of the Charter to compel all countries concerned to maintain Lebanon's neutrality instead of sacrificing it as an offering to bargains and turning it into a bloody arena for improving positions on the tables of influence and the agendas of hegemony. Ban Ki-moon's moral compass is strong, and he is certainly dismayed by the failure of the UN to prevent the transformation of the situation in Syria, from peaceful protests for reform at the outset - as part of the Arab wave of uprisings that he supported -- into an arena for the war on terror on behalf of UN Security Council members, especially the permanent members. Lebanon is calling for the UN Secretary- General today to act differently so as not to find himself unable to contribute to saving the country, just like happened in Syria.

The Security Council will not be able to deal with the Lebanese developments, because Russia and China will disrupt any endeavor, just as they had done with the Syrian issue by wielding the veto on three separate occasions to block draft resolutions and prevent consensus from forming on presidential statements. Both these countries have become allies of Iran in every sense of the word, while Iran is heavily involved in Lebanon through Hezbollah, which is fighting with and on behalf of Iran in Syria. Consequently, Russia and China are now effectively the allies of Hezbollah and its ambitions in Lebanon, including its use of arms against the rest of the Lebanese to impose a government that it would dominate or use of assassinations to preclude the formation of any cabinet that would not suit it. In addition, the entry of terrorists affiliated to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, or other al-Qaeda affiliates to Lebanon recently to fight Hezbollah has strengthened the bonds of alliance within the axis comprising Russia, China, Iran, Hezbollah, and the regime in Damascus. This axis, which began in Syria, now has a branch in Lebanon.

The United States does not care much for Lebanon. President Barack Obama gives absolute priority to relations with Iran Obama is turning a blind eye to Hezbollah's actions in Syria and Lebanon, to avoid having to stop his rushing to appease Tehran. Since he is also a party in the coalition against al-Qaeda and its affiliates and offshoots at large, President Obama has positioned the United States in a quasi-alliance with Russia, China, Iran, Hezbollah, and the regime in Damascus in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia, which opposes Hezbollah's direct involvement in the fighting in Syria alongside the regime there, also opposes Hezbollah's attempts to dominate the state in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has suddenly found itself in one trench, while its U.S. ally is in another trench, that of Iran and Syria, and Russia, China Germany, and other European countries. Perhaps only France is in the same trench as Saudi Arabia's in Lebanon.

The Neo-Jihadists are the product of the Syrian conflict, but also the failure of the UN Security Council to act, and Russia's deliberate bid to lure them to Syria to keep them away form Russian cities. The regime in Damascus was the jihadists' main sponsor during the Iraq war, to defeat the United States. Iran has also always trained jihadists to use them against Western targets, especially American targets. These Neo-Jihadists are undercutting the Syrian opposition, and using Iraq and Lebanon for their sick goals based on hatred. They are the enemy of not only the Syrian uprising and Lebanese neutrality, but also Saudi stability. For this reason, it is necessary for Saudi Arabia to stop looking at the battle with Iran from a sectarian viewpoint and on the basis of Iranian-Shiite ambitions in the Arab region.

It is within the capacity of the UN Secretary-General to act on Lebanon before it turns into another Syria or Iraq. What is required of him is to be firm with all parties concerned without exception. The starting point, firstly, will be to stop considering Lebanon a satellite or a byproduct of Syria. The Secretary-General must choose an effective method to put an end to policies that belittle Lebanon and consider it a footnote in the negotiations with Iran or the fighting in Syria.

Secondly, Ban Ki-moon can truly lead an international effort to keep Lebanon neutral, and prevent it from turning into a failed state where battles rage on behalf of regional countries, in addition to direct battles between Sunni extremism and Shiite extremism. The battle of the terrorists of all types, backgrounds, and religious affiliations, will lead to this country's destruction. The international community would be an idle witness while Lebanon is betrayed, if it does not act.

Thirdly, the Secretary-General can mobilize as much international support as possible, not only for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but also for the Lebanese infrastructure, particularly the institutions of the Lebanese state, led by the army.

Fourthly, perhaps it is time for the UN Secretary -General to enlist his good intentions in a quiet diplomacy towards establishing an Iranian-Saudi channel of accord that could stop Lebanon's descent to perdition. Both countries wield considerable influence over this country's fate. Ban Ki-moon has a chance and a responsibility to work in earnest to rescue Lebanon before it is too late.

Ultimately, it is not enough to hold Geneva 2, if the march of killing should press ahead, and if the dismantlement of a country neighboring Syria is a goal that the international community silently consents to.

Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi

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