Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria

UN Sanctions on Iran: How Should Lebanon Vote?

As Michael Young points out in his column in The Daily Star today, there’s a decent chance that Lebanon will soon find itself in a bit of a tight spot vis-à-vis the proposed UN resolution to sanction Iran.

Apparently, Obama administration officials believe that they can persuade China to get onboard, which would then put the resolution to a vote in the UN Security Council. Lebanon is currently the Arab representative, and Young’s point is that this issue has the potential to severely test the unity of Saad al-Hariri’s young administration:

If Lebanon votes in favor of a sanctions resolution, it will incur the wrath of Hizbullah; if it votes against a resolution, it risks provoking the ire of Arab states who want to see Iran contained, above all Saudi Arabia. And if Lebanon announces beforehand that it will abstain, the decision, if poorly promoted diplomatically, might provoke criticism that it is being wishy-washy, while the permanent Security Council members will be angry not to have the sole Arab representative supporting them. A choice to abstain could also lead to politicization of the vote issue, which would be used as leverage against Hariri and his majority, not least by a Syrian regime that relishes playing on Lebanese contradictions for its own political benefit.

What are Lebanon’s options? The only realistic option is for Beirut to very carefully prepare the ground for regional and international acceptance of a Lebanese abstention. Voting for or against a sanctions resolution will only split the government, and the country, forcing a confrontation that can only be resolved through the compromise of an abstention.

Just because Lebanon is damned-if-it-does, damned-if-it-doesn’t, that don’t mean you can’t vote! See the poll above.

Update: See here for the International Crisis Group’s briefing paper about China’s attitudes regarding the Iranian nuclear issue.

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24 thoughts on “UN Sanctions on Iran: How Should Lebanon Vote?

  1. To abstain is attractive but wrong. One proves the lack of a backbone; in this case no one doubts that the Lebanese officials are descendents of jellyfish though:-);and wins the ire of the other two sides.
    To vote against the sanctions in order to appease Hezbollah is doubly wrong since such votes are supposed to be cast on the merit of the case. This leaves only one option; vote is support of sanctions although they are not expected to be very effective. The world cannot afford another nuclear power. Unless the international community is to take a strong stand against nuclear proliferation then in a few decades many will have the bomb and the doomsday clock will have to be moved closer to midnight than ever before.
    A peaceful and an ecologically sustainable world cannot afford to be lax in enforcing nuclear restrictions. One would hope that the pressure should grow so as to force even the big guys to place serious limits to restrict further their nuclear stocks.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 18, 2010, 3:55 pm
  2. Lively discussions the last couple of days QN, especially the last thread. BTW a Haifa & Livni dual would be the the most fun to watch, and ofcourse, I would root for Haifa

    Anyway, I voted for “Abstain” since Lebanon would be between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunate as it is, taking a clear cut position (if it can be done) could have risky ramifications for Lebanon both internally and regionally. Best to lay low when the big boys are slugging it. Plus a Lebanon vote either way wouldn’t have a decisive effect anyway, since Lebanon is not one of the “Big Five” on the SC.

    Lebanon can easily justify (wiggle out of it) this Abstain vote as it does not have the means to independently verify the data/obeservations/analysis/etc. being presented before the SC

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 18, 2010, 10:47 pm
  3. Pleasantly surprised that so far the “no” votes are in the majority.

    It will definitely be interesting to see which way Lebanon votes. Let’s see if the Lebanese are able to summon the same spirit or backbone now being exhibited by our Turkish cousins. As for the Iranians, they’ve been independent since 1979.

    Posted by Pirouz | February 18, 2010, 11:16 pm
  4. Since when any vote but the US counts in these cases no mater what the world thinks, the US is determent it has the right to suffocate the world with its rightness.. When they put useless countries like Lebanon and the others before it in the council it is just a way to portray good will to the world.
    I have a question, was there a permission granted to all the other countries that has these deadly war heads including Israel, Pakistan and India so on? It seems what Ras Beirut said makes sense but I would not join in the vote my self. No matter what the realty is in the hands of a big evil power I “Abstain” from voting on this vote.

    Posted by kt | February 19, 2010, 1:57 am
  5. Let’s first see if the resolution that will reach the security council is not watered down. But lets just assume there is a vote my money will be on Lebanon voting against. Saudi Arabia can bite it’s tongue on this one easily. It has already publicly critized the usefullness of more sanctions on Iran (of course privately things are different) and therefore can say that Lebanon’s vote reflects it’s official stance.

    Ghassan Karam,

    Beautifully put, especially the part where the world doesn’t need another nuclear power etc. But please come back to the real world, planet earth needs you (just teasing). My point is; none of these countries care about the very valid reasons you put up. The fact of the matter is, this will always be about strategic interests, so if tomorrow a nation’s acquirement of nuclear weapons is in the best interest of the US then they will do just that.

    IMHO if there is no serious solution to the middle eastern conflict (not just the arab-israeli one)in the next decade or two and the Islamic Republic is not overthrown by internal forces then we have to accept the fact that Iran will become nuclear and the world community will not be able to stop them.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | February 19, 2010, 2:15 am
  6. Lebanon should vote for sanctions.
    any effort to deny the evil ayatoolas a nuclear weapon is considered good for the world.

    Posted by V | February 19, 2010, 3:49 am
  7. typical Lebanese mess created by our shortsighted politicians. They can’t agree on the municipal elections and now they will agree on how to vote on sanctions against Iran?

    I voted to abstain (although I have a feeling that Lebanon will vote against; yesterday Ahmadinejad has called Slieman).

    I wish you had a 4th option also: resign from the SC. I would have voted for that.

    Posted by XP | February 19, 2010, 4:13 am
  8. “To abstain is attractive but wrong. One proves the lack of a backbone; in this case no one doubts that the Lebanese officials are descendents of jellyfish though…”(GK #1)

    Lack of a backbone? Wouldn’t this rather be a bad case of spina bifida?


    Posted by mj | February 19, 2010, 4:19 am
  9. More seriously, finally the issue of nuclear arming has made it to this blog. Because this is how I’d like to address it: the hypothetical embarrassment of a Lebanese Ambassador in the SC is fun to discuss, but with all my respect for all –including all the Arab governments that Lebanon is supposed to represent in that council-, I would like to call the attention of all on the great danger that implies the race to nuclear arms in any region of the planet. Especially on THIS region, since I live in it!
    The more I look at it, the more I find it appalling: the inconsistencies, the recklessness, and the lack of seriousness of world power nations -and whoever else hold the power as well-, I find no word for it. The hypocrisy of the nuclear nations has no limits; the NPT has become a vaudeville, and nothing is done to reassure the world that the materials used in the nuclear process aren’t already in the hands of non state actors whose aims I don’t even want to think of. I know that up to now it was only used by state powers, US government power in fact. But the world has changed ever since, and not for the better.
    The whole issue is such a mess! First, the inconsistency of laying it down as a problem with Iran (a declared Islamic Revolutionary state) having nuclear bombs –when another very Muslim and very unstable country, Pakistan, has got it already in very murky ways, not murkier than the way its neighbor and rival India had it. I find also amusing that when the race is on, we are supposed to believe that a certain country has the right to own nuclear heads because of a certain other that has them already: India because of China, Pakistan because of India. Now is Iran because of Israel. But how could Iran bomb Tel Aviv without hurting Palestinians as well? Or maybe they will bomb Jerusalem? And if Iran is unable or could not effectively nuclearly bomb Israel without hurting Arab and Palestinian and Muslim interests, why does Iran need nuclear military power (yes, I do assume that they want nuclear
    military power)? Deterrence? Because the Iraq war has proved that it is the only way not to be attacked by the USA? Who will be next to acquiring it? KSA? Jordan? Who will be the sponsor of these new rising powers and to what extent that will weigh on the independence of those countries?

    And last but not least: why, oh my, why, isn’t anybody able to put the point where it belongs, i.e. the undeclared but neither denied hundreds of Israeli nuclear warheads pointing at Arab countries, in the first place? Why do Iran’s “lawyers” in the leftist ranks, who in my opinion, should be plainly anti-nuclear in the first place, have to resort to the “right” of Iran to arm itself, instead of working their a… in campaigns of awareness, pointing to the powerful, dangerous and uncontrolled Israeli nuclear armament?

    Posted by mj | February 19, 2010, 6:23 am
  10. Today, 4 Belgian ex-ministers wrote an op-ed in a major Belgian newspaper, urging the NATO to scrap nuclear arms. [The ministers are Willy Claes (former secretary-general of NATO and former FM), Jean-Luc Dehaene (former PM and former FM), Louis Michel (former FM and EU commissioner) and Guy Verhofstad (former PM and President of the Liberal fraction in the EU Parliament).]
    The question is how much impact will this have and if it has an impact, how long will it last? After a lot of pressure, Belgium had to change its law on universal jurisdiction when it became to “brutal” in the eye of some.
    Sweet little Belgium is indeed a very little country; nevertheless, it has to start somewhere.
    Maybe Lebanon and Belgium should do something together on this issue – both countries are often compared and could turn their weakness into strength? Sounds a bit naive, I do realise it, but every miracle starts with imagination.

    AP: Ex ministers urge NATO to scrap nuclear arms http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?col=&section=middleeast&xfile=data/middleeast/2010/February/middleeast_February501.xml

    Original op-ed [in Dutch] “It’s now or never” http://www.standaard.be/artikel/detail.aspx?artikelid=6J2MD9RN

    Posted by Umm iDriss | February 19, 2010, 10:11 am
  11. Uhmm, does this article still make any sense at all if you believe, as I do, that the Saudis would not vote ‘yes’ if similarly situated.

    I would go further to describe how disingenuous this column is, but I am feeling charitable today.

    Posted by david | February 19, 2010, 10:52 am
  12. Oh, and I just read an interesting op-ed in Al-Hayat from Hassan Haidar:

    “[…] Yet previous experience has shown that Iran’s talk of war has been serious when the matter concerns the regime’s interests. The summer 2006 Lebanon war erupted after economic sanctions were imposed on Tehran, and there is nothing preventing such a scenario from being repeated, a scenario which produced a “victory” Iran and its allies still boast of.

    Yet it is noteworthy that, when Ahmadinejad spoke of resisting any Israeli offensive, he did not indicate the willingness of his country to participate in such resistance, and in fact laid the responsibility for the task on just Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. […]”

    If he is right, Lebanon should do everything in its power to prevent a UNSC vote on sanctions.

    Am afraid Belgium can’t do a lot in this :/ – although the creative people on this blog might have some refreshing ideas?

    Posted by Umm iDriss | February 19, 2010, 10:54 am
  13. InoccentCriminal/ mj/ Umm/ David;
    The simple fact of the matter is that our ultimate responsibility is not to play geopolitical games but to take a stand for what is right and for the future.
    Once we realize that there is no future for a nuclear world then we have to start somewhere at creating a less dangerous one with the aim of a nuclear free world. The skeptics can laugh and can speak of this as a dream. Let me remind you that many all over the world painted environmentalists as tree huggers , thirty years ago, only to find out that ecological degradation is the single biggest challenge that civilization has ever faced.
    Umm, I commend you for your stand and I will point out that the stand of Belgium is not totally unique. Many generals from all over the world have signed statements for nuclear free world at least 14 years ago. Many citizen groups in the US , Japan and Europe have been calling for the same for some time. Even the current US/Russian leadership is working towards the goal of at least lowering the inventories of nuclear bombs. The fact that one does not like the record of the NPT is the weakest of arguments to make against efforts to stop proliferation. The only question that should be raised , in this case, is whether one supports nuclear proliferation or not. All other arguments are subsidiary.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 19, 2010, 11:46 am
  14. GK,

    I agree, which is why I think the LB should abstain and make some grandiose statement about a “nuclear weapon free world.” Ridiculous, a bit, but so what, it tracks on Obama’s stated policy and pokes both Israel and Iran on the nuclear issue.

    The part of the column that irritates me, well one of the parts, is the idea that the great powers would be shocked to learn that Lebanon is something of a “basketcase” vis-a-vis regional alignments.

    So I agree from both a idealistic and realistic pov, Lebanon should use its relative insignificance to say ‘a pox on all your houses.’

    Posted by david | February 19, 2010, 12:00 pm
  15. d,

    yes, abstention does seem like an opportunity to at least draw more attention to the need for inspections of israel’s nuclear capabilities.

    Posted by j anthony | February 19, 2010, 1:51 pm
  16. I agree, Lebanon should abstain and make a strong statement about the urgent necessity of a non-nuclear ME. As a small and weak state in the middle of strong conflicts, it is well placed for making that call. On the other hand, if “Lebanon is today a member of the UN Security Council and he has a responsibility to represent the Arab League before the international community” (Amer Mussa), then its voice should be the one of the Arab countries? The only possible unified stance would be that of, again, abstention. (I agree with Sean that KSA would probably never openly vote in favor of sanctions itself!) The point with MY’s article was, I think, that Lebanese diplomacy should prepare for that stand in advance, in case of course the day arrives at all when China would allow that vote to happen. My point is that the Arab countries should have used the pressure of the dilemma that Iran’s strong will presents to push for a real effort to make the region non-nuclear –which implies pressuring on Israel to come clear. Of course, instead of that, they will continue whining through press articles about the monster next door, while begging for nothing bad to happen to it, because it would be devastating for them too. In fact, they are just waiting for Ahmadinejad to show its toy so they can request theirs in turn. Given the price of the toys, the providers and the middle men must be already drooling…

    Posted by mj | February 19, 2010, 3:33 pm
  17. There is an assumption among some that Saudi Arabia would have voted yes for the sanctions if it occupied the SC seat. However, I am not totally convinced that it would.

    To start off, while Saudi Arabia clearly sees Iran as a rival does it really want to take its confrontation out in the open? If it votes against the other “Muslim” state then Iran will have more ammunition to show how SAU is a puppet in the hands of the US and more importantly is aiding ISR. I am not saying that they would not be happy if Lebanon took that stance and voted for the sanctions, but I do not believe they have the backbone to vote no.

    The best option for Lebanon is to abstain and to try to push for a nuclear free ME. Although that would never truly happen, it would encompass the argument that we need to have a stance on the issue of nuclear weapons in the ME and a stab at ISR that already has them.

    Posted by Fate | February 19, 2010, 3:37 pm
  18. Abstaining is an attractive option, i agree, as it sounds to be the easier of the routes; but is it the right one? I personally, do not think so. I think we should make up our mind about what is it we want to achieve in the ME and vote accordingly.

    Posted by Caustic | February 20, 2010, 6:33 am
  19. c,

    if abstention could be about asymmetry, and tied to holding israel, and others, accountable as well, it might best serve the goal of creating a nuclear-free region that does not wish to be any arms dealer’s cash cow. and an abstention might also be the least divisive but most sovereign vote.

    Posted by j anthony | February 20, 2010, 10:43 am
  20. M. Young has an interesting piece over at Hudson, I won’t link cause of public health reasons, but google works.

    In my own opinion, he is an interesting case, and one deserving attention due to his role in “explaining” Lebanon in American policy circles. He is smart and a good writer, but I have found it almost impossible to read him over the last five years without shaking my head in consternation. Part of that stems from the fact that his columns are basically of two types: Mehlis as courageous truth-teller, and Aoun-so-crazy. I think this singular focus goes along way to explaining his positions on matters Lebanon.

    While there are many pratfalls in pseudo-psychology, the repetitious nature of his commentary makes one wonder. His almost clinical obsession with things Aoun leads me to believe that he is in fact an Aounist (with all the contradictions therein) who feels the General and the leadership of the FPM has essentially betrayed their “common cause.” I really don’t know how else to explain his focus on Aoun (as if other Lebanese pols are not treasure troves for criticism). While he often writes about “Christian politics,” he almost never critiques the LF or Kataeb, except elliptically: who are Hariri’s nameless trouble-making “partners” one might ask. Indeed, part of his fury toward Aoun may owe to the fact that he has found himself in bed with federalist Christian trends (Geagea, Gemayel) that he probably opposes politically, intellectually and perhaps morally.

    As for his obsession with Mehlis, I think it goes to his determination to exact some tribal justice upon the heads of the killers of Samir Kassir (indeed, I think one can trace his transformation into full-advocacy mode to Kassir’s death). I say “tribal” because he will not acknowledge that STL prosecutors are stalled due to a lack of evidence. Instead, he sees an international plot to stifle the Tribunal. That is, of course, nonsense, but not bad ‘politics’ if you see the Tribunal as the only way to exact some measure of revenge (if only symbolic) for the murder of Kassir. Unfortunately for Mr. Young, I would gather that Saad is losing interest in the Tribunal (not personally, but politically) as it has served its only possible end: consolidating Lebanese Sunnis under the House of Hariri.

    At some point in the future, I think he will realize that the only real consequence of his Intifada was the polarization of Lebanese politics into almost pure sectarian camps (Sunni and Shia) and the halving of Lebanon’s most popular Christian leader. I assume that realization will occur at about the same time he realizes that Kassir’s death will not be avenged in the manner he wished. A bit further down the road, he may well come to realize that the Syrian role in Lebanon, however thuggish, illiberal and increasingly mercenary, actually served as something of a brake on the excesses of Lebanese sectarianism, creating, by accident rather than design, the narrow space he and other self-annointed Lebanese ‘liberals’ came to occupy and contest.

    Such is tribal justice: replete with ironies.

    Posted by david | February 20, 2010, 2:59 pm
  21. To David. You are either MY’s therapist or lover but that is a great analysis of what is on the man’s mind. He is close to a fox news analyst with one argument fits all.

    By the way, as I thought would happen, the story of the plane crash into the federal building in Texas is now in the back pages of news sites. Even fox news and especially Glenn beck were talking about tiger woods instead of white Christian home grown terrorists, or as they briefly called him, cowerdly criminal.

    Posted by Edgard | February 21, 2010, 5:23 am
  22. I think that the best thing for the Lebanese Ambassador is to apologize for oversleeping and missing the vote ,

    Posted by norman | February 21, 2010, 9:32 pm
  23. Good idea Ammo Norman.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 21, 2010, 10:56 pm
  24. Against.

    The sanctions regime has been disproportionately used against Middle Eastern countries and people.

    When the US stops applying double standards to those countries that defy the international community then we can talk.

    That is the message Lebanon should be sending.

    Posted by mo | February 21, 2010, 11:03 pm

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