Connect to share and comment

Tensions flare in Lebanon

After a sleepy summer slumber, Lebanon wakes up to cold, hard reality: it's still in the Middle East.

Some attribute the logjam to the chilling of the regional warmth that had gathered in the wake of Barack Obama's election to the U.S. presidency. Regional antagonists Syria and Saudi Arabia had begun talking again. The U.S. made new overtures to Iran and Syria. But now, it seems, tensions are surfacing, with Lebanon serving as a kind of canary in the coal mine.

Hariri will almost certainly be nominated again to assemble a cabinet, but he may leave the opposition out of the lineup, which could lead to a similar situation as in the dark days of 2006 and 2007, when the country was wracked by car bombs and assassinations after the opposition called for Hariri's majority ruling coalition to step down.

Another disturbing deja vu is that the tiny, gas rich, power-brokering nation of Qatar has offered its services once again to save Lebanon’s bickering politicians from themselves.

The emirate, which has a population of 400,000 and 10 percent of all the natural gas reserves in the world, leading it to have one of the highest per capita incomes, announced that it would be willing to host a dialogue session between the embittered Lebanese parties. Qatar is one of the few neutral countries in the region, and juggles friendly relations with Iran while also hosting the U.S. Central Command 's headquarters a few miles away from the Al Jazeera satellite broadcasting channel headquarters.  It wouldn’t be the first time Qatar has stepped in to mediate. In May 2008 the emirate hosted a dialogue session that broke through 18 months of political deadlock that had led to the brink of civil war.

"We hope that the Lebanese will find a solution but we are ready to help them if that becomes necessary," said Qatari Prime and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Ben Jassem Ben Jabr al-Thani after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Qatar hosted the last dialogue after two years of the Bush administration’s confrontational policies in the region gave way to a more conciliatory tone. That shift only increased with Obama’s presidency. It’s doubtful the U.S. will return to similar policies anytime soon, but the underlying causes of Lebanon’s and the region’s instability have not been resolved. Until there is a final agreement on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon appears doomed to suffer the ebbs and flows of regional relations and instability.