US seen as more aggressive, not less, in Lebanon, following the Mecca agreement
Joseph Samaha, in his regular column in Al-Akhbar, writes about the relationship between the "Mecca agreement" respecting Palestine, and the situation in Lebanon. There has been optimism recently, he says, about the chances of applying the Mecca-agreement idea to Lebanon, partly bolstered by the reported Saudi-Iranian talks. Samaha explains where he thinks the big difference lies.
The "Mecca agreement" fits, in one way or another, into the American strategy for the region. It is a strategy that calls for starting movement in the Palestinian negotiations, [but this is] in order to facilitate the regional re-alignment, and give the "moderate powers" a political weapon against the "extremist powers". Now it is true that Hamas is classified as part of the extremist camp, and it is true that some clauses in the agreement weren't what America and Israel were hoping for. However, acceptance by America of the agreement is a good bet insofar as it paves the road for the overall American strategy, even if this is something temporary and partial.So the first point is that the Mecca agreement didn't represent a change of heart, or a Saudi declaration of independence, or anything like that. Rather it was still part of the plan to give political cover to the "moderate" Arab regimes in the overall "re-alignment". But Samaha goes further:
I think we can even say that the Mecca Agreement, as some kind of a preliminary to a Palestinian common front, is seen in Washington as strengthening their attack on the two other regional fronts against "extremism", namely in Iraq and also in Lebanon. Which would mean that the Lebanese crisis is developing in a completely different framework from that in Palestine, as far as the Americans are concerned. ... Naturally this is merely tactical, but it is the case, and it will be for a while yet. If this is the right analysis, and I think it is, it becomes possible to understand the purport of the statement by read by the US ambassador [to Lebanon] Jeffery Feltman [on Monday], namely that it is a statement against domestic accord, against agreement, against the domestic interests, against the opposition forces, and so on. It was an open invitation to continue the crisis with all of its dangers.(The Feltman statement in question doesn't appear to have been reported anywhere in English when it was made, but the gist of it is explained in this Daily Star news item reporting on the Hizbullah rebuttal). Feltman apparently accused Hizbullah of working to restore Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, of contributing to the destruction of Lebanon's constitutional institutions, of having triggered the summer war with Israel, and so on. Samaha's point is that issuance of a belligerent statement like that, at a time when optimism was building for a meeting of the minds, underlines his hypothesis that the US is currently becoming more hawkish, not less, with respect to Lebanon, and is treating the Mecca agreement as a form of political cover in the broader regional "re-alignment". And consequently, he says, the nice idea that the Mecca agreement might be soon copied in Lebanon, is probably the wrong way of looking at this, at least as far as American strategy is concerned.