Hezbollah leaves Lebanon in murky waters

While Iran beats its chest and “owns” a large segment of the Lebanese political scene thanks to Hezbollah, Lebanon is left holding the broken pieces of the political jigsaw puzzle.
Sunday 22/07/2018
Stuck in traffic. A man gestures as he drives a car with the picture of Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon.  (Reuters)
Stuck in traffic. A man gestures as he drives a car with the picture of Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon. (Reuters)

Lebanon’s primary export should be prosperity and neutrality, as had long been the case. The “Switzerland of the Middle East,” they used to say. Ah, but those days of political insouciance when the Lebanese would steer clear of regional politics are long gone.

The days when ousted prime ministers from neighbouring countries could find safety and refuge in Beirut no longer hold. Lebanon’s involvement in cut-throat regional politics has left the country in murky waters.

Just as Gulf countries rely on oil and natural gas for prosperity, so Lebanon relied on peace to sell its major source of revenue: hospitality. Lebanon’s major industry was tourism; an industry in which peace and serenity are prerequisites. Lebanon’s tourism was an industry that employed thousands of people and had a positive effect on the country’s economy.

Lebanon’s tourist industry kept the country’s many hotels, restaurants and nightclubs — along with a slew of not-so-kosher industries — busy but that served their purpose. They depended on a peaceful spring and summer to make up for the rest of the year.

Alas, it is practically impossible to promote tourism when terrorism is knocking at your door.

Add to that the fact that Lebanese politicians are their own worst enemies and have yet to draw lessons from the mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers. Despite a 19-year civil war that achieved nothing memorable, the country’s leaders continue to bicker, picking up where their fathers left off.

If “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is applicable to anywhere in the region, a quick glance at Lebanon’s parliament should underline the point I am trying to make. Indeed, that collection of one of the largest gatherings of political and social misfits in the greater Middle East can be found in Lebanon, where most of its members have no qualms in placing the interests of their political or financial supporters ahead of the interests of the country.

It does not help Lebanon that its leader is fully aligned with Iran. Lebanon, like all small countries in the region, bases its stability and prosperity on neutrality in regional conflicts. Lebanon and Iran are not politically compatible. They stand at opposing ends of the political spectrum.

Much as Lebanon needs peace and stability to thrive, Iran, by the very nature of its constitution, is constantly looking to expand and export its Islamic revolution. For the revolution to survive and to thrive, Iran needs continued turmoil. Much as the residents of Lebanon enjoy their individual freedom, Iranians under the diktat of the mullahs have their basic rights denied.

The two countries run on opposite tracks and never the two shall meet, at least not in their current political incarnations. Lebanon’s Christians have praised Hezbollah for its success in pushing Israel out of southern Lebanon, giving the Arab world its first major military victory over Israel. Yet the Lebanese Christians also avoided any political alignment with Hezbollah.

As most Lebanese Christian leaders distanced themselves from Hezbollah, one leader — the country’s president — did exactly the opposite. Michel Aoun wanted to be president so badly that he was ready to sign on with the devil so he went into a memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah.

With tensions in the region mounting, this could mean agitated waters lie ahead for Lebanon.

Aoun is preaching on behalf of Hezbollah, telling the Americans that pulling out from the 2015 nuclear deal was wrong and will negatively affect the Middle East.

“The unilateral US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement (in May) will have negative repercussions for security and stability in the region,” Aoun wrote on Twitter on July 16, his first public comment on the accord.

“Lebanon considered (the deal) a cornerstone for stability in the region, helping make it an area free of weapons of mass destruction,” Aoun’s office said in a statement summarising a meeting between the president and Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari.

Aoun said he welcomed the commitment of other countries to continue with the deal.

In Lebanon’s May elections, Hezbollah — along with groups and individuals politically aligned to it — won more than half of the seats in parliament, boosting the group politically. Militarily, its combat-tested militia, which experienced some of Syria’s toughest battles in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war, is more powerful than Lebanon’s army.

Under the 2015 accord, Iran won a lifting of international sanctions in return for verifiable curbs on its disputed uranium enrichment programme. US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal in May, calling it deeply flawed and has reimposed stringent US sanctions, heaping pressure on other signatories, including major European allies, to follow suit.

European powers have reaffirmed their commitment to the accord and said they would do more to encourage their businesses to stay engaged with Iran, though many firms have said they plan to pull out to avoid US penalties.

While Iran beats its chest and “owns” a large segment of the Lebanese political scene thanks to its proxy militia Hezbollah, Lebanon and the Lebanese are left holding the broken pieces of the Lebanese political jigsaw puzzle.