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Is there a new 'Sykes-Picot' race unfolding to shape Lebanon's future?

Candles lit during a demonstration in support of the Lebanese people following an explosion in the port of Beirut, on 6 August 2020 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
Candles lit during a demonstration in support of the Lebanese people following an explosion in the port of Beirut, on 6 August 2020 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Another western breach of the already violated Arab space is being implemented today through the weak portal of Lebanon as France and Britain sent two warships to the stricken port of Beirut. There appears to be a concerted effort to confront Turkey on a second front, having already done so in Libya and the government in Ankara offering the use of one of its own ports to help the people of Lebanon.

This rapid French-British naval presence on the Lebanese coast straight after the bombing of the port is a response to two obvious needs that the West cannot hide. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the need to exert pressure on the Lebanese state and army to prevent any serious investigation into the Beirut explosion, about which there is much suspicion and doubt given the accumulating testimonies and videos which suggest strongly that an unconventional explosion took place last week. This could have been caused by an air-to-ground missile or a sea-to-ground missile, or even by technology tested months ago in Syria creating the same destructive waves that we do not see after the use of conventional bombs.

Prior to the ships arriving in Beirut, some Lebanese and international media addressed the quick visit by French President Emmanuel Macron and his behaviour which made him look as if he is the de facto ruler of Lebanon. His blatant threats to the Lebanese authorities resulted in the government resigning on the day that the investigative committee was due to present its report. Moreover, the decision to send the two naval ships was arguably an attempt to pre-empt Turkey's offer to place a Turkish port at Lebanon's disposal and to take care of the reconstruction of Beirut's port.

READ: Lebanon prosecutor to question ministers over Beirut explosion

It seems as if the international powers fighting over the gas resources of the eastern Mediterranean basin have exploited the Beirut tragedy shamelessly to drag Lebanon into the growing conflict with its economic and geopolitical dimensions that extend from the Levant to the Strait of Gibraltar. There is a rush to fill the void resulting from the decline of the US military presence in the Middle East, and this is being led by France and Britain, the duo behind the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement which carved up the Ottoman territories in the region even before the fall of the Empire. They see themselves, perhaps, as the legitimate heirs of the American presence, while on the other hand we have Turkey, possibly dreaming of the opportunity to regain part of the Ottoman Empire that was dismantled a century ago by Sykes-Picot.

Sykes-Picot agreement [Wikipedia]

Sykes-Picot agreement [Wikipedia]

Once again, the Arab world's lack of leadership and vision is obvious. It finds itself vulnerable to the collusion of regional and international powers and will likely face more than one simultaneous attack that shakes its stability even more, as well as its development opportunities. This all has to be added to the continued attacks by Israel, which the West no longer trusts to manage the conflict with an unstable Arab world that is pregnant with the popular revolutions that were aborted during the Arab Spring. Today, the Western powers are working to facilitate the return of military regimes and forget about exporting democracy, the strategy which has failed in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Sudan, and is expected to fail in Tunisia sooner rather than later.

What is happening in Lebanon today is the rapid elimination of the sectarian democratic experiment, as a prelude to preventing copies of it springing up in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The West believes that Iran has benefited from it more than Israel, just as the Turks and the Muslim Brotherhood's many branches have benefited more from the Arab Spring revolutions than the pro-Western secular elites in Egypt, Libya or Tunisia, or even in Morocco. The Algerian version saw national forces regaining control of the military, security and political institutions and escaping from the trap of luring the military into government, as happened in Egypt and Sudan.

READ: France helping Lebanon investigate Beirut port blasts

Just as the West was relying on handing over power in Libya to those loyal to Khalifa Haftar, the tragedy in Beirut has given it the chance to topple a government that had not been overthrown by a popular movement protesting over the past year, while also toppling sectarian democracy. The West also has the chance to hand over the government to the Lebanese armed forces and thus kill more than one bird with a single stone, placing Lebanon back under a disguised Western mandate, removing Hezbollah and Iran from the political equation and leaving Syria as an exclusive arena for the Russians. It is also an opportunity to control a country whose southern front is the most dangerous for Israel's security, the soft underbelly in the eastern Mediterranean not that far removed from the volatility of Libya.

The West is tightening its grip on the region. There could well be a new Sykes-Picot race unfolding to shape Lebanon's future.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Ecchrouk on 11 August 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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