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    Beware the ‘Rogue State’ Status

    In the coming weeks or months, Beirut will face the inevitable question of how to approach the issue of its commitments to the international community. No amount of rhetoric or bluster will be able to sweep this issue aside, no matter how vociferously it is voiced.

    Naturally, all eyes are on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and this week The Daily Star reported that four ministers, not all of whom are in the March 8 camp, have turned down the international tribunal’s request for information and documents.

    It has also become apparent that should the STL indictment be issued and name Lebanese nationals, few should expect that any official body to take the step of trying to arrest anyone.

    Such moves are certain to be widely portrayed as an official rejection of cooperation with the STL, and there will be consequences.

    Another “sign of the times” appeared recently when American financial authorities took steps against the Lebanese-Canadian bank, ostensibly on charges of money laundering and ties to Hezbollah, irrespective of the details of such accusations. This development can be read as a “soft warning” to Lebanese authorities, and a sign that Washington will be firm against anyone seen as cooperating with the party.

    Whether it is the targeting of a bank, or the tribunal-versus-government saga, Lebanese politicians should bear in mind that the consequences of being declared a “rogue state” are likely to be disastrous.

    In the recent past, the international community has acted against countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria – but those countries, with more balanced economies and enjoying a degree of economic self-sufficiency, should not be compared to Lebanon, which exists precariously thanks to remittances from abroad, its banking sector and massively-high levels of food and other imports.

    The Beirut-based banking sector is a particularly tempting target, should Western and other powers decide that Lebanon should be punished for ignoring international commitments to the STL, or on other fronts.

    Led by Central Bank governor Riad Salameh, Lebanon has invested massive efforts in developing its banking sector into an attractive destination for investment and deposits. Such achievements could disappear overnight if panic sets in about Lebanon’s future under an international sanctions regime.

    This is not to advocate blind, total compliance to the international community, but blanket rejections of what the outside world is saying are also less than useful.

    The next government will be walking a tightrope, and politicians should remember that their words, as well as their deeds, could be hugely detrimental. It is a time to step lightly, and coldly calculate the costs and benefits of every action. They are not engaged in a political game, but in a struggle for survival.

    The Daily Star

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