Walid Phares submits “Free Region” Project to US Congress

A draft partial implementation of UN Resolution 1559 called "Free Region" is currently being proposed by Walid Phares, one of the US Congress' counter-terrorism advisers. Professor Phares also serves as secretary general of the transatlantic parliamentary group TAG. He outlines his plans to ICI Beyrouth, as well as the conditions necessary for its realization.

This article was originally published by Ici Beyrouth on February 25, 2022. The original can be found here.

By Amine Jules Iskandar Syriac Maronite Union-Tur Levnon

The urgent need for international intervention

Lebanon has clearly ceased to exist as a sovereign state. Its institutions are all engulfed in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, rendering them incapable of taking on even the slightest role in an international recovery plan. While waiting for a concrete initiative from the international community, which could be slow in coming, the need is urgent to put in place a temporary solution; to restore life to an exhausted population, and to stop the economic and demographic hemorrhage.

Given the rejection of the neutrality proposed by Bkirké and the lack of any cooperation with the Kuwaiti initiative, international intervention in support of the Lebanese army, which has still remained out of the tentacles of the occupier, is an undeniable necessity. With backing from the international community, the Lebanese army would be able to take charge of the areas not yet subject to Iranian weapons and which constitute a geographically continuous region with two ports and two airports. The IMF, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the European Union, and the United States would then be able to step in and jump-start the economy and other sectors, such as hospitals and universities. This is an emergency rescue plan that could subsequently benefit the rest of the country.

Image: Ici Beyrouth

The project presented to the American Congress

Such a new plan, proposed by Professor Walid Phares, recommends the establishment of a “Free Region” stretching from Jezzine to Beirut, passing through the mountains, including the coastline between Beirut and the northern border. It is now submitted for consideration to Washington. Once passed by US Congress, the Free Region project does not require additional voting by the United Nations, because it is based on the already existing UN resolution 1559. It is only a question of continuing its application in successive phases. Professor Phares is quite optimistic, recalling that the current set of demands and conditions are, in many ways, similar to the situation in 2004 when he and fellow Lebanese Americans submitted to the UN Security Council the request for adoption of resolution 1559, calling on Syria to withdraw its occupation troops. Professor Phares regrets that not all clauses of this resolution have been implemented since 2005. Very unfortunate indeed. The withdrawal of Assad’s foreign occupying forces was only one part of the resolution, which also demands the dismantling of the militias. However, the parties involved in the Cedar Revolution ended up accepting the compromises that allowed the militia to maintain and expand. What is in the making today is therefore not a new resolution, but the completion of what was unjustifiably interrupted after the Syrian withdrawal.

A next step in the implementation of Resolution 1559

The plan is based on two pillars; the right to self-determination of peoples and the terms and condition of applying international resolutions. The first is an inalienable value which recognizes the natural right of human components. They can in no way be submitted to an authority which they reject, and which oppresses them. The second condition concerns the clause of Resolution 1559 which refers to the disarmament and dismantling of the militias. It is important to note, says Professor Phares, that this clause has been applied in a large part of Lebanese territory. He says that in this region where the militias were all dissolved in 1990, the national army can assume sole responsibility for the security of citizens. It will therefore be responsible for maintaining social order, will have to intercept any armed movements, and requisition the depots of arms and ammunition. Pending to rid the rest of the national territory of illegal weapons, this plan will make it possible to restore life for the Lebanese.

The ”Free Region” project is proposed in parallel to the efforts of Bkirké, whose Patriarch Bechara Raï calls for the respect of the country’s neutrality and the holding of an international congress to save Lebanon. The Vatican showed its support through the visit of its highest diplomatic official, Monsignor Paul Richard Gallagher. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has also recently expressed his organization’s interest in the two Bkirké proposals. For the advocates of the “Free Region” project, Lebanon’s agony cannot go on any longer pending solutions for regional problems that go beyond it to erase.

Timetable and roadmap

Unfortunately, warns Professor Walid Phares, simply presenting a memorandum based on theoretical legal principles is not enough to mobilize the “international community” to achieve immediate concrete results similar to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Because there are dozens of causes in the world that have been waiting for their turn for decades. “Our experience tells us the importance of diligent work by teams that organize, coordinate, and implement a clear vision and a very precise strategy,” he explains.

Let us not forget that UN resolution 1559 was adopted in 2004, but that its implementation in 2005 came only about after a combination of circumstances; massive popular protests, large-scale media campaigns, and a lot of lobbying. Without actual on-the-ground activities, Professor Phares notes, any resolution is limited to the realm of theory.

For the “Free Region” project to have a chance of success, there must be coordination and convergence of all the dynamics present, he adds.

The Kuwaiti initiative is the strongest so far because it is backed by regional governments that have a presence on the ground and access to international diplomacy. However, it will not bear fruit if it stays without popular support on Lebanese soil.

The Patriarch’s initiative for neutrality and for an international conference requires international, regional and national support, in other words, strong popular support. Here lies a role for Christian, Sunni and Druze religious bodies.

Although the upcoming legislative elections in Lebanon cannot change the balance of power against the Iranian Hezbollah militia, they could nevertheless form groups of aligned sovereignist deputies. The latter will have to support the demand for international recognition of the so-called “Free Region” under the aegis of Resolution 1559 which would grant it the necessary protection.

The formation of the “Free Region”, if achieved, would constitute a next phase on the road to total liberation. The need for the full application of Resolution 1559 has been in the making in Lebanese-American circles since 2021. Its realization will depend on the ability of the Lebanese to set up national, diasporic and international coordination, as well as an adequate and accountable political architecture. This requires convergence between the efforts of civil society, the diaspora, political parties, religious bodies and the media.

Dr Amine Jules Iskandar is an architect and the former president of the Syriac Maronite Union – Tur LevnonAmine Jules Iskandar has written several articles on the Syriac Maronites, their language, culture, and history. You can follow him @Amineiskandar2

For the article in Spanish see Maronitas.org.

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

Also read from the same author:

The Soul of Resistance

The Audacity to Question the Base

Neutrality and Federalism

You have to know how to die to be able to live

A Port, a City, and a Mountain

Language in the Formation of Nation States

“KAFNO”: The Genocide on the Christians of Mount Lebanon during the First World War

The Mysterious Origins of the Language of the Maronites