The Lebanese Arena
The Coronavirus crisis:
- The mindset in the Lebanese networks continues to blame Iran for the spreading of the Coronavirus into Lebanon. There is also an argument in Lebanon between those calling for the suspension of flights from Iran to Lebanon and those who are opposed to the suspension.
- One of Hezbollah’s Iranian founders dies from Corona:
- Hussein Sheikh al Islam died from Corona at the age of 68.
- Al Islam was one of the young revolutionary leaders who stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 79 seizing the hostages. He served as Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister “for Middle East affairs”. In the 1980s and in the late 1990s he served as Iran’s ambassador to Damascus.
- In his capacity as Deputy Foreign Minister, he belonged to a small group that facilitated the establishment and building of Hezbollah’s organizational force in the 1980s.
- He may also have been a secret partner to the mystery of the disappearance of Ron Arad the captive Israeli aerial navigator, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.
Declaring failure to pay government debts:
- Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on 7 March that the Lebanese government has decided not to pay its debts.
- Diab noted that the government debt and the interest rates are beyond Lebanon’s ability to meet and pay, and that the currency reserves have reached a critical and dangerous stage, forcing the government to suspend the payment of bonds, in favor of the use of these funds to provide the basic needs of the Lebanese people. According to Diab, the decision to suspend paying off the debt is the only way to stop the depletion of funds and protect the public interest. In addition, Diab promised to take action to protect the deposits in the banks, particularly the deposits of ordinary citizens.
- The total estimated government debt is at $ 31 billion, with the near repayment of $ 1.2 billion due on 9 March.
- Diab updated that the Lebanese government will begin negotiations with various debt holders “for debt restructuring” and at the same time, start reforming government spending.
- The IMF delegation that recently visited Lebanon departed with a negative impression after meeting with the Lebanese officials that did not present an orderly and comprehensive economic plan.
- From the statements of the IMF delegation, we can learn the essence of the economic problem in Lebanon:
- “Lebanese officials are still in a deficient state of mind as to what they should do. They are confusing between what is political and what is economic and each and everyone one of them is trying to profit on the political and public levels while dealings with the matters at hand, while responsibility should require them to act outside their narrow considerations.
- Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Na’im Qasem stated: “we will not give in to the IMF“, as Hezbollah is very suspicious of the goals behind the IMF assistance offered by the Lebanon Fund.
- Following a meeting between Hezbollah representatives, Amal and the Free National Party (President-Michel Aun’s party), it was decided to support the non-payment of the public debt policy. The parties expressed their agreement that the government should not bear any of the burdens to elude the current crisis, as the crisis in their eyes, derived primarily from the banks financial incompetent actions, given that the banks sold their bonds to foreign entities.
- In addition to international sanctions, Hezbollah will find it even more difficult to manage financially as external factors are involved in the Lebanese economic system. Such intervention is likely to bring firm financial measures and regulatory processes. This control could harm Hezbollah’s independent and parallel economy it controls within the Lebanese economy under the government’s patronage, hence Hezbollah’s main concern of such external intervention.
Is the Lebanese government declaring war on the banks?
- The Lebanese economic prosecutor has ordered the freezing of assets of 20 Lebanese banks and the assets of the members of their boards.
- The freeze action is meant to exert pressure on the banks and their managers in light of their conduct during the country’s economic crisis. The banks had imposed numerous restrictions on money liquidity and on money transfer deposits, which seriously damaged customers and citizens economic managing.
- The freeze decision is subject to the approval of the Governor of the Lebanese Central Bank.
Expressions of protest following PM’s declaration
- Groups of young people have recently returned to block roads in several areas in Lebanon, due to the government’s failure to resolve the economic and financial crisis and protesting Prime Minister Diab’s speech announced the decision not to pay the debts.
The mindset of the Shiite community against Hezbollah’s involvement in fighting against rebels and Turks in Syria in Idlib province
- In light of the funerals held in the southern villages for nine Hezbollah fighters killed in Idlib (see our previous week review), there is a feeling of discontent in southern Lebanon and the Beqaa valley villages as well as throughout Shiite social media sites where there is considerable dissatisfaction aimed at Hezbollah.
- Among the Shi’ite milieu, they are expressions of opposition to “Hezbollah’s adventures” at the dispatching of Lebanese and Shiites to an unrelated campaign.
- Following are some key examples of quotes expressing negative attitudes:
- “Hezbollah went to Syria under the orders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and we as Lebanese oppose this policy and this program that is severing relations with our Arab brothers and Arab countries rendering hostility towards us.”
- “We were sympathetic when Nasrallah told us at the time that he wanted to protect the Shiites in Al-Qusayr, and once again we went along with him when he said that the protection of the holy places was a religious obligation, but then he (Nasrallah) began to lose credibility among Lebanese in general and Shiites in particular. What added fuel to the fire now is the killing of many young people by the Turks, what is our connection to the problems between Bashar al Assad and Erdogan?! Hezbollah has transformed us into a community of outcasts by the Arabs, a community feared throughout the world.”
The Lebanese Army International Women’s Day commemoration (8 March)
- The Lebanese army noted International Women’s Day on its Twitter account on 8 March by posting a photo of female soldiers saluting the Lebanese flag along with the statement: “Sacrificing together.”
The Syrian Arena
The Corona Crisis
- The Facebook page “Shahid Ayan Haleb” (anti-Assad regime) states that Syrian television did not publish even one news item regarding the spread of the Corona virus in Iran. This is in spite of the fact that Iran is the second country in the world after China in the number of Corona related deaths.
- The Facebook page is against those responsible for Syrian television by saying that “In their security mentality, media obsolescence is the ideal solution.”
- Head of the laboratory department of the Syrian Ministry of Health stated that there were not any cases of Corona on record in Syria …
Idlib district – from the Turkish announcement of a military operation to a fragile ceasefire
- On 1 March, the Turks announced the commencing of the military operation “Spring Shield” against the Syrian army. However, a meeting between Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan was scheduled for 5 March.
- After they were able to conquer the city of Sarakíb (about 15km southeast of Idlib city), with massive backing by the Turkish army on 27 February (see our previous weekly review), on 2 March, rebels were ousted from the city by the Syrian army with Russian aid from the air and Hezbollah operatives on the ground. In doing so, the Syrian regime regained full control of the Damascus-Aleppo Highway (M5).
- On 2 March, the Russians deployed military policing forces into Sarakíb. By doing so, they determined the facts on the ground, thus neutralizing Turkish military backing for the rebels, leaving them no choice except withdrawal from the city.
- On the 5th. of March, a meeting between Putin and Erdogan took place in Moscow. The outcome affirming a ceasefire agreement in Idlib province, its main points being: Freezing territorial status i.e. each side will keep its ground achievements, aiding refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes, Turkey possesses the right to respond militarily to Syrian army attacks, Russian forces retain freedom of movement, with the emphasis on the M5 and M4 Highways. The Russians have a clear interest in maintaining freedom of movement along these routes leading towards Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia.
- On the one hand, Turkey has waived its demand that the Assad regime withdraws from Idlib province and the rebels under its auspices lost various territories. On the other hand, a large area of Idlib district in general and Idlib city, in particular, remains in rebel hands.
- The future of this fragile ceasefire remains uncertain, as proof of its uncertainty, shortly after the “cease-fire” came into effect, the Syrian army attacked rebel positions in the Idlib area with artillery. Two Turkish soldiers were killed in the attack. In response, the Turkish army attacked positions of the Syrian army.
- The map available at aawsat.com shows the controlled areas of the different sides in the conflict around Idlib following the ceasefire agreement:
- The pink colour represents areas controlled by the Syrian regime and its supporters.
- The light blue and green colours represent the areas controlled by the opposition forces supported by Turkey.
- The Yellow colour represents the areas controlled by the Kurdish forces.
- At the bottom of the map, the yellow frame reads, “The Security Passage (on the map it’s the dashed section in red) – it spans 6 km north and south of the M4 motorway, where Russian-Turkish joint tours are conducted.
Humanitarian aid for northern Syria’s displaced persons – statements of US Secretary of State Pompeo and US State Department
- The announcement said the US would increase humanitarian aid by an additional $ 108 million to the Syrian people, both displaced and refugees.
- The decision to increase aid comes in light of the humanitarian crisis created by the activities of the Assad regime, the Russians and the Iranians.
- The US will support the UN Secretary-General’s recommendation to open another humanitarian crossing in northern Syria, in the area of the border with Turkey in the Tell Abyad area.
Continued airstrikes by an unidentified entity in Syria
- On the night between 4 and 5 March, two areas were attacked from the air: the first, in northern Syria in the Homs province the areas of the “A-Daba” and the “A-Sha’irat” airfields were attacked. In the second, two targets in southern Syria were attacked near the settlements of Medinat al Ba’ath and Hader.
- We believe that the attack in northern Syria is linked to arms / weapons production infrastructures (it may even be a chemical weapons infrastructure developed by the Syrian regime). In southern Syria, we believe that the attack was on terrorist targets related to the “Golan Portfolio” unit.
- Based on Syrian and Lebanese media reports, these attacks are part of the continuation of the “campaign between wars” waged by Israel across Syria.
The assassination of a senior officer of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards
- Iranian officer Farhad Dvirian, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was assassinated in Damascus near the Holy Shiite site – Alsaida Zainab.
- An anonymous assassin apparently carried out the assassination on 6 March. Dvirian was responsible for several combat operations throughout Syria, including the military operation to eliminate ISIS activity in the Tadmor area.
South Syria – Dara Province – al Sanamayn – evacuation of opposition rebels to northern Syria
- Following a settlement reached with Russian intervention, 24 opposition fighters, some wounded, left the al Sanamayn settlement and arrived in northern Syria (on the battles between the opposition and Syrian army in the Deraa province in general and al Sanamayn in particular – see our previous weekly review).
The Chinese – another dominant player in the Syrian arena
- As part of Syria’s economic and scientific cooperation relations, both countries signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement. Under the agreement, the Chinese government will award the Syrian government a financial grant of a total of $ 14 million for a range of humanitarian needs to be agreed upon between the two sides.
- The Chinese, like the Russians and Iranians, have many economic interests in Syria’s rehabilitation on the day after, with an emphasis on rebuilding and large-scale infrastructure construction.