With the assassination of Mohamad Chatah, a former Finance Minister to the now exiled former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon has lost a courageous intellectual and an eloquent voice for moderation who in numerous tweets and blogs spelled out the extreme peril his nation faces as the civil war in Syria continues to polarise the Lebanese people.
Only hours before his death in a huge car bomb blast in Beirut, he had tweeted his grave premonition that Lebanon was heading at considerable speed back into the future. As he put it: “Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years.”
One did not have to agree with all Mr Chatah’s positions – as a leading Sunni, he had followed the hard anti-Assad line pursued by Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to recognise that he saw clearly the dire peril his nation faces. His analysis was that the war in Syria, which has already cost at least 120,000 lives, has gone on too long for the Assad regime’s dominance to be restored, that both Iran and Hezbollah understand this, and that as a result their preferred outcome is for the war to continue indefinitely.
Mr Chatah also saw, with the clarity of a Lebanese patriot, how great a disaster such a stalemate would be for his country, which could not hope to avoid being dragged in, and would suffer another bout of destructive civil war, similar to the one that lasted from 1975 to 1990. Indeed, his violent death is another fatal step in that direction.
After months of frustration and numerous setbacks, the long-anticipated peace conference on Syria is set to open in the Swiss town of Montreux on 22 January. The war continues to intensify as the two sides seek to maximise their positions in advance of the talks. Hopes for success may be slim, but the outside world owes it to Mr Chatah and his beleaguered people to strain every muscle to realise them.