Ukraine should learn the lessons of Lebanon

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October 13, 2022

Ukraine should learn the lessons of Lebanon
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remotely addresses EU MPs gathered in Strasbourg, France, on October 13, 2022. (AFP)

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Beyond a vague feeling of solidarity with Ukrainians, I will admit that the Lebanese have generally been quite uncaring about the current war. They have mostly been insensitive to the tragic situation. The reason can be summed up in one word — disillusionment. The Lebanese are living in a terrible situation, which for them is a direct consequence of the international community’s abandonment. It is a milder way of saying that Lebanon knows what it means to be sold out for geopolitical reasons. Even the maritime agreement between Lebanon and Israel is seen as giving away the entire country to Hezbollah and Iran.

This is precisely the point of this disillusionment — the Lebanese have become accustomed to being in the eye of the storm of regional proxy conflicts. They know how it goes: One day you are the darling of the international community and the next you are thrown under the bus. Subconsciously, the Lebanese are convinced that this is how the Ukraine war will end. They have seen this movie before and can no longer have hope. They believe that the strong promises from world leaders to bring freedom and defeat evildoers will shift suddenly, and deals will be made on the achievements of the people of Ukraine.

For example, one can see in today’s description of Ukrainian women the same beautiful adjectives describing the power of Lebanese women rising up against oppression. In Lebanon, it all ended with deals upon deals, in which the beautiful adjectives faded in front of the pragmatic geopolitical world order. It never ended well for the Lebanese. And so, when we look at Ukraine, we would tend to say: been there, done that. As a matter of fact, Ukraine has also been through these cycles since the start of the Orange Revolution, and one could even go further into history. We can dream and aspire to freedom, but at the end of the day believing the promises of world leaders only commits us, not them.

Whether in business or politics, when working or being aligned with a greater power, we always need to understand what our own strength is. Being capable of achieving tactical victories thanks to this support is a good thing, but understanding what happens if this support shifts or ends is even more important. I would also add the necessity of knowing where your interests and those of your supporters collide. Today, Ukraine’s military successes against aggression have, in a way, recalibrated relations between Russia and the West, and this is in perfect alignment with both their interests.

Kyiv needs to start thinking about how to transform its successive battlefield victories into a geopolitical victory

Khaled Abou Zahr

Nevertheless, the unconditional backstage support of the US military and other NATO allies has been instrumental. It is a net positive for the transatlantic alliance, which has proved its military superiority when needed. It has also unified all of Europe toward this goal. Finland and Sweden’s requests to join NATO are a great symbol of this change. According to the Department of State, the US has, since January 2021, invested more than $17.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. The French newspaper Le Figaro also reported the heavy presence of military, security and intelligence personnel on the side of Ukraine to support its war effort. Sensitive equipment and key satellite data have proven instrumental in changing the balance of military power.

What happens next? Lebanon gives a useful lesson, if not lessons, on that topic. What happens when pragmatism between the big powers comes into play? When do your supporters need to make a deal? Or worse, what happens when they get busy somewhere else and support fades away? This is what Ukrainians should determine — will they be able to achieve the same military achievements without this international support? Moreover, if history has taught us one thing, it is that Rodina-Mat (the Ukrainian motherland) is not easily vanquished, if ever. It might even be able to sustain wounds, blood and tears longer than the West’s election cycles. And so, the longer the conflict lasts, the bigger the chances of the situation changing.

There is no doubt that a free Ukraine is a key point and the sacrifice of the people deserves sovereignty over all of its territories. They have sent a strong message to Russia that an invasion is extremely costly. The sacrifice of this generation will be recorded in history. They nevertheless need a way to protect this achievement. This is why Ukraine’s leadership needs to start thinking about how to transform its successive battlefield victories into a geopolitical victory. Throughout history, Lebanon has missed several opportunities that were not perfect, but were good enough to protect the country. Ukraine should not make the same mistakes. The Ukrainian people should also remember that the world stood silent in 2014, when Russian troops entered Crimea. What is to say they will not go back to that silence?

French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for a return to the negotiation table and this could be the way to achieve this geopolitical victory. It does not mean that Ukraine should stop its military advances if it is capable; this can be done in parallel. But it should understand that, if it has sent a strong message to Russia, there is also a message received, which is that Ukraine can stay an open wound until another file becomes an international priority. If Ukrainians do not believe it, they can ask their Lebanese counterparts.

• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


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