“You could qualify for U.S. and Western aid to salvage Lebanon or you can cede what’s left of your country’s sovereignty to Iran. But you cannot do both.” A US Congressional staffer after his boss recently introduced legislation to cut off all aid to Lebanon until it “cleans its house of Iranian militia and restores Lebanese sovereignty.”
Increasingly these days on Beirut’s streets of Hamra and across much of Lebanon one hears a Sanskrit like mantra that: “Lebanon was never a real country, it is not now a real country and will not be a real country during the lifetimes of its current citizenry.” It’s become a bit of a truism worth some contemplation.
A couple of days ago there was reportedly bit of a kafuffle at Beirut Rafik Hariri, which fortunately did not come to blows. It occurred as travel weary Lebanese and tired international travelers arrived in Beirut for the beginning of tourist season and queued for the normally long wait to have their passports stamped. They reportedly learned that they were obliged to be welcoming hosts and to stand aside for Iranians fighters who it was decided no longer need passport stamps or apparently even passports. “We are pilgrims visiting Shrines to Zeinab in Lebanon” one young militiaman explained to an incredulous and soon furious expanding Lebanese assembly.
This was not news to some who work at the airport and have been aware that on instructions from Lebanon’s reputed leader, Al Quds leader Qassim Solemani, the “Resistance” is using Beirut Airport as their base of operations according to a Washington Times report on 6/15/18. Lebanese citizens witness first hand or are regularly informed by relatives and friends who work at the airport and observe the smuggling of drugs and weapons and in allowing Iranian fighters to move freely without passport stamps into other countries.
The problem arose when on 6/17/18 pro-Iranian Lebanese General Security Chief, Abbas Ibrahim, without bothering to consult Lebanon’s Cabinet, issued a controversial decision allowing Iranian passengers to enter Lebanon without having their passports stamped. Within 48 hours, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq scrapped the “Resistance” edict insisting that “such decisions must be taken by the Cabinet. not by Ibrahim. Many Lebanese consider Ibrahim, along with “President” Michel Aoun, FM Jebran Bassil, Lebanon’s Army Chief, General Joseph Aoun, plus the head of the Amal Militia, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, among other current officials, essentially gofers for Iran’s Al Quds leader Qassim Soleimani.
As noted above, when the public learned of Ibrahim’s decision to grant Iranian fighters free airport entry “to make pilgrimages”, they and many Lebanese officials as well as the international public were up in arms despite Ibrahim’s and President Aoun’s panicked assurances that such a practice “was normal.”
Many begged to differ. From a fast-growing number of international visitors standing in long slow passport lines as Lebanon’s tourist season begins, and the sight of Iranian fighters jumping and heading to the front of the queue. In addition to airport employees, security staff, airport taxi drivers and airport shopkeepers and baggage handlers, this was one more example of ceding what is left of Lebanese sovereignty to Tehran. “Persians return to Persia” was reportedly a common dismissive insult directed at the young men.
Reports quickly emerged accusing Hezbollah of allowing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to essentially take over Lebanon’s airport to use as a base for the Iranian regime to store and transport weapons and expedite fighters to locations and countries serving Tehran’s strategy for regional intervention.
Calls for Ibrahim to be fired from his position will surely be blocked by his powerful sponsors but the public will presumably closely monitor “Resistance” rumored plans to remodel and deepen the airport. Suspicions are rife that bunker-buster proof sub-terraranan facilities and missile storage are to be installed deep underground.
Beirut’s Rafik Hariri airport. Photo courtesy of Mahar Salome
But problems for Lebanon’s economy and political status continue to mount. From millions of concerned Lebanese who left the country and comprise roughly 75 percent of Lebanon’s pre-civil war (1975-1989) population, to international aid NGO’s, UN Agencies, specialists at the IMF, World Bank and global money market administrators, among many others, including the Arab League, Lebanon may well be a lost cause.
But as most of us would agree Lebanon is worth salvaging as an independent country and some things can be done even short-term toward an urgent salvage operation. Many argue that much can be achieved to salvage Lebanon over the coming six months with serious, sustained, and closely public monitored political and economic tough love.
One US and EU proposed first step would include immediately cutting off all foreign military and economic aid to Lebanon until the beginning of 2019. This period to be followed by a six-month intensive study and review of corruption that has plagued the “country” over the past nearly three decades since the “end” of the so-called “civil war.” It is the post-civil war period which has seen the war-lords become entrenched political-lords, eliminating rivals and dividing up Lebanon’s Parliament cabinet portfolios based on each Cabinet posts total of personal cash for its “Minister”. Today once again, no government has been formed post the May election because certain sinecures are not yet satisfactorily in place. If that fails to happen then Lebanon’s election would again have been largely for naught.
Several of Lebanon’s political party officials are wringing their hands mouthing that the sky is falling, and Lebanon is “on the brink of Abyss!” As a regular “chicken little”, Lebanon’s nearly three-decade Speaker of Parliament, Amal militia leader Nabih Berri, known in Lebanon as “the Thug’ and sometimes as “Mr. 50 percent” for Lebanon’s annual budget he is accused of pocketing over the decades, announced again, with tongue in check, on 6/18/18 that: “Forming a new government has become an imminent necessity. Lebanon is on the verge of the abyss and the economy threatens great dangers that the country may not be able to bear.” It is Speaker Nabih Berri who will block the formation of a Lebanese government for however long it takes for him and Hezbollah to create what Tehran wants to put in place for Lebanon.
Meanwhile, ambassadors of many pledged donor countries have reportedly informed Lebanese officials that decisions of this springs Cedar Conference are subject to deadlines and that Lebanon must form a balanced government for the conference’s pledged assistance to start taking effect in the coming months. The World Bank has released several reports on the seriousness of the economic situation in Lebanon as it still waits for reforms to start providing Lebanon with donations and loans.
Undeterred by such warnings, Hezbollah MP Mohammed Raad on 6/18/18 insisted that “Hezbollah was now in a better position than ever before, following the parliamentary elections, and “Our situation is at its best compared to the past. Things have become better. We are not pressured, neither regarding a permanent majority at the Parliament, nor about forces that can impose any decision on the country without consulting us.”
Below are a few briefly noted measures being urge locally and internationally to salvage Lebanon.
The observer submits that as these tough subjects are tackled and hopefully solutions implemented, that it is critical that Lebanon’s ‘new blood’ youth play the defining role and to lead this country replacing of the current lifetime political lords. One of the many tragedies of the ‘political lords for life’ running Lebanon as their private business, is that the brilliant, committed young people, who grew up observing the corruption first hand and daily, have been shunted aside and denied any meaning role in salvaging Lebanon. As with Iran and Syria, the youth are fully capable and ready to rebuild their homelands.
Specific actions Lebanon’s friends can insist be taken to salvage Lebanon in addition to cutting off all aid over the next six months while it evaluates Lebanon’s future, include a detailed examination of its budgetary practices and performance for the past quarter-century with sanctions implemented and carried out for violations and corruption.
Placing Lebanon’s governmental functions and cabinet files in the hands of public servants proven to be honest and not controlled by foreign or regional powers.
Demand monthly accounting for the income of governmental officials.
All the above to be achieved before any further economic or military aid is granted to Lebanon.
On a related urgent subject, drugs are destroying Lebanon. The government must top supplying or allowing the supply of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian camps and 156 Gatherings with addictive drugs from politically projected dealers based in the Bekaa Valley.
All would-be donors must insist on the end of Lebanon’s support for the Cocaine Trade both domestically and in Latin America in the Triple Frontier, where Paraguay intersects with Argentina and Brazil.
The government of Lebanon must stop the selling of Captagon pills from Lebanon’s Bekaa dealers to ISIS units in Syria. The amphetamine-based Captagon is a stimulant to keep the user awake for long periods of time and to dull pain. It also has hallucinogenic properties. It has been nicknamed the “jihadists’ drug.” 300,000 of the pills worth approximately $1.4 million, was confiscated by US-backed forces 5/31/18. Drug dealers in the Bekaa Valley with political cover regularly sell the drugs to ISIS and other Jihadis for primality two reasons. The sales raise much-needed cash and energize the Jihadists to fight rebel-backed forces for long periods of time. Nearly monthly a large stash is discovered at Beirut’s airport.
If salvaging Lebanon is possible, it will take tough love to reign in the massive corruption of her political leaders, re-build a fragile economy, pressure outside governments to end their efforts to absorb the small state for their hegemonic political purposes and for former western colonial powers to follow suit.
Lebanon is particularly vulnerable regionally but in their own continents so are tens of the other 192 members of the UN. The population of Africa, just on the other side of the Mediterranean is predicted to climb to 2.5 billion by 2050. And by 2100, Africa will be home to half of all the people of the planet with an estimated quarter of this planets countries having nuclear weapons.
If Lebanon, unique in many ways can be salvaged with tough love from friends it can potentially become a regional model of sorts with potential applicability to countries in this region and beyond.
The observer avers that salvaging Lebanon is worth a try. But time is running short.