As political tension mounts in Syria and international reactions grow louder, sharp divisions are emerging between Lebanon's political parties regarding what kind of action to take against the Syrian regime.
Lebanon rejected the Arab League's resolution to suspend Syria's membership during a meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo on November 12th. President Michel Suleiman justified Lebanon's position in the Arab League as one taken to "safeguard Lebanon's interests".
"Lebanon is not in opposition to the Arab League's resolutions, but to the isolation of any country in the region", he said, adding that he hoped that the Syrian government would "accelerate the implementation of the Arab initiative, open dialogue with all factions of the opposition, and proceed courageously and expeditiously in implementing reform".
Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Lebanon's position "stems from historical and geographical considerations and realities that are unique to Lebanon".
Former Prime Minister Hariri described Lebanon's stance as "shameful".
"Those who claim they seek to preserve the neutrality of Lebanon and protect it from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis have thrust the country into the heart of the storm and on the wrong side (of the Syrian conflict), the side that advocates murder, dictatorship and an anti-Arab identity," Hariri said on his Twitter account November 13th.
Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hizbullah, said in a November 11th speech that Syria is facing is a plot to overthrow its regime. He called on the Lebanese to "not bet on [collapse of the regime] because it will fail as previous bets have" and threatened that "war against Iran and Syria would engulf the entire region".
Parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, described events in Syria as a "revolution". On October 30th, he called on the Syrian regime to stop firing on peaceful demonstrators, withdraw its military forces from the cities, release all political prisoners, implement political reform, and draft a new constitution.
Since protests began in March, an estimated 3,500 have died according to the United Nations. The Syrian government is blaming "armed terrorist gangs" for spreading violence in the country.
Despite Lebanon's opposition, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership until the government agrees to implement an Arab initiative to end violence against demonstrators and called for the withdrawal of Arab ambassadors from Damascus. Yemen and Syria joined Lebanon in voting against the resolution, and Iraq abstained.
While pro-Syrian Lebanese parties project a grim picture of Lebanon's fate if the Assad regime falls, March 14 forces argue that it would have a positive impact on Lebanese-Syrian relations and the Arab Spring should be supported in Syria.
Dr. Sana Hammoudi, a professor of political relations at the Arab University of Beirut, said Lebanon is in a difficult position because of its geography and that Syria maintains substantial influence in Lebanon.
"Lebanon will inevitably pay for what is happening in Syria, but I do not think it would reach the point of internal fighting in Lebanon if the Syrian regime is replaced," she said.
"The heightened pressure could lead the Syrian regime to vent it in Lebanon, and the international community could apply economic pressure on Lebanon to tighten the noose on the regime in Syria."
Hammoudi ruled out the outbreak of war or the possibility that Hizbullah would take steps to demonstrate support of the Syrian regime "because everyone in Lebanon has had enough of civil war".
Political analyst Antoine Farah said Lebanon is no longer neutral because of its position in the UN Security Council and its vote on sanctions against Syria, in addition to its opposition to suspending Syria's Arab League membership.
"That stance has put Lebanon in an embarrassing position, prompting the president and the prime minister to justify the Lebanese position to the international community," he said.
Farah said Lebanon is the geographical and historical "lung of the Syrian regime", and that the political climate in Lebanon is biased in favour of the Syrian regime, which raises suspicions in the international community.
"Some parties who harbour these suspicions are seeking to apply pressure on Lebanon from time to time and in different areas, including banking, where they called for tighter controls on money originating from Syria," he said, noting that banking is a pillar of Lebanon's economy.
Farah said international pressure has eased restrictions on the Syrian opposition in Lebanon and helped displaced Syrians in Lebanon.
Hussein Salamah, a political analyst, said Lebanon's stance on Syria has left the international community at a loss.
"The international community is confounded by Lebanon's split into two camps, because one conforms to the international community and the other supports the Syrian regime, which impedes the application of pressure on it," he said.
In his view, any pressure, especially economic pressure, would adversely affect the Lebanese camp that opposes the Syrian regime more than it would affect Hizbullah, which Salamah said "has no [shared] interests with the outside world, and thus would not be affected".