Western nations change course in Lebanon amid war drums
In a significant shift of international diplomacy in the Middle East, Western embassies have altered their stance on the unfolding Lebanese crisis. According to the Al Akhbar, departing from their earlier role as conduits for Israeli threats, these embassies are now adopting a more receptive posture, marked by a dual approach that moderates their tone and prepares for potential conflict escalation.
US Ambassador Dorothy Shea, at the forefront of this transition, has engaged in intense dialogues with Lebanese leaders, including the President of the Council, the Prime Minister, and Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, as well as political figures like former deputy Walid Jumblatt. Shea's lobbying efforts have aimed at curtailing hostilities towards Israel, urging for restraint and strategic neutrality across Lebanese territories.
The response from Lebanese officials has been mixed. The Lebanese Forces' leader, Samir Geagea, and Member of Parliament Sami Gemayel have acknowledged Shea's concerns, placing the onus for regional instability on Hezbollah and calling for the withdrawal of their forces from southern Lebanon. However, the general Lebanese sentiment has proven to be resilient against external threats and pressure tactics, exhibiting a reluctance to coerce Hezbollah into any form of submission.
Recent diplomatic maneuvers have seen Western envoys, including Shea, softening their rhetoric. Abandoning their prior demands, they have recognized the ongoing resistance as a given while expressing apprehensions about the conflict's potential growth. These concerns have propelled a shift in focus towards exploring political solutions, as highlighted by statements from Shea and a senior British diplomat, emphasizing the urgency of a political pathway that could extricate Lebanon from the complexities of the strife in Gaza.
Despite this shift, some diplomats have been candid about the persistent rationale offered by ambassadors to justify Israel's aggressive actions in Gaza and the West Bank, albeit without laying down a definitive roadmap to peace.
Amid these diplomatic ebbs and flows, Western European military contingents from the UK, Germany, Italy, and France are prepping for various scenarios. Their readiness plans include the potential evacuation of hundreds of thousands of dual nationals should the conflict expand. This cautious approach reflects a reluctance to witness a replay of the chaotic extractions seen in past conflicts such as Afghanistan and Sudan. The diplomatic corps are taking no chances, upgrading security for their missions and maintaining open channels with all parties, including direct contacts with Hezbollah, despite receiving stern responses from the group, especially in light of their stance on Gaza.
European Union representatives, along with those from France, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, are setting the stage for a rapid response. They have put together an evacuation blueprint that could see expatriates relocated to Cyprus in an emergency, ensuring detailed personal data is collected, and clear instructions are provided for such an eventuality.