Lebanon’s celebrations cannot hide the risks it faces

The Lebanese will predictably continue to ignore all the domestic and foreign dangers that surround them and assume that an illusory safety net will protect their fall.
Sunday 25/11/2018
Little to celebrate. Lebanese protesters chant slogans during a protest against corruption and the failure of long-serving politicians to form a government in Beirut, on November 22. 	    (AP)
Little to celebrate. Lebanese protesters chant slogans during a protest against corruption and the failure of long-serving politicians to form a government in Beirut, on November 22. (AP)

Most Lebanese are under the assumption that their country enjoys the continued benediction of the international community, which on many occasions has extended political and economic aid, especially in times of need.

This streak of good luck seems to be running out for Lebanon, as it is gradually losing favour with many of the Western countries that no longer see this failing democracy as the regional beacon of freedom it once was.

The US sanctions against Iran and its regional lackeys exacerbate Lebanon’s current predicament, as primarily Hezbollah, which is represented in the Lebanese government, exposes the country and its feeble economy even further. Yet most Lebanese, including government officials, at least publicly claim to be fully aware of the scope of these sanctions, which they simply wave off as inconsequential.

Unfortunately, the reality is very different. These punitive measures represent a new brand of sanctions whose intensity and scope, if misunderstood or underestimated, will unquestionably place Lebanon’s banking sector and economy in grave danger.

The Lebanese have yet to grasp the fact that these sanctions do not only include illicit business dealings with Iran or Hezbollah but all sorts of financial transactions that include the use of the US dollar. In the past, the US Treasury blacklisted a number of Lebanese businessmen and businesses for money laundering and facilitating Hezbollah’s financial activities.

Shady characters, most of whom were involved in narcotics and weapons smuggling, offered the same services for Hezbollah, not for ideological motives but rather for a substantial fee, and thus their arrests or financial demise were calculated risks.

Going forward, however, even a legitimate Lebanese merchant who wishes to trade with any Iranian counterpart, someone who is not necessarily connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or the regime, will theoretically face the same financial fate of the aforementioned hoodlums when using the US currency.

The same restriction applies to the Lebanese government agencies that can no longer hide behind the pretext that Hezbollah is a political party representative of a large segment of the Lebanese Shia population.

Attempts to distinguish between the pro-Iranian party’s political and military militia wings carries no weight outside the minds of some of the Lebanese political elites who believe they can ignore the fact that Hezbollah, despite its local affiliations, is organically part of the IRGC.

Last week, the unfolding measures forced Lebanon to comply with sanctions on a number of airliners, leading it to declare that it can no longer refuel Iranian and Syrian jets while transiting via Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. While this might seem to be only a minor inconvenience to Iran, it is merely the tip of the iceberg and part of a set of future restrictions the Lebanese government will have to learn by heart if it wishes to comply with the sanctions.

Essentially, the unpredictable nature of these sanctions troubles Hezbollah and forces it to find an alternative way to continue receiving funds from Iran. If it fails to do this, it will have to force the Lebanese government to refuse to comply with these sanctions, which it brands as a Zionist Western conspiracy to suppress its alleged quest to liberate Palestine.

Consequently, contrary to the ongoing debate surrounding the formation of the next cabinet, the only obstacle facing Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is whether he will accept to fully cooperate with Hezbollah on the future sanctions that might require him to simply concede to the bullying of Iran’s operators.

November 22 marked the 75th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence from the French mandate — an occasion for the Lebanese state to insist on promoting an archaic version of nationalism, by parading its different branches of the Lebanese Armed Forces and their outdated weaponry.

While this event was intended to express a sense of nationalism and patriotic reflexes, it has failed to mask or alter the bleak reality that Lebanon is under a different type of occupation by elements whose agenda and overall ideology stand in contrast to what Lebanon and its diverse setup represent.

The Lebanese will predictably continue to ignore all the domestic and foreign dangers and challenges that surround them and assume that an illusory safety net will protect their fall.

Unfortunately, Hezbollah’s ongoing regional adventures and the crippling US sanctions, not to mention the failure by the Lebanese to reform their state, might be just too much for any safety net to salvage.

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