Lebanon continues to reel from its biggest national crisis since its inception. Years of economic mismanagement came to a head in late 2019. The Lebanese pound entered a free-fall, delivering a severe blow to the country’s import-based supply chain which, in turn, produced severe scarcity across the nation. To date, half the country has been thrust into poverty.
Only making matters worse has been the devastating effects of the coronavirus. Already destabilized from financial insolvency (Lebanon defaulted on international loans for the first time in its history back in May) and a country-wide protest movement that began in October of last year, the government was in no position to effectively handle the effects of the pandemic. Lebanon currently finds itself in its worst economic turmoil since the civil war of the 1980s. It has evolved into a crisis that threatens the very stability of the nation’s democracy.
While many share the blame for the decades of governmental incompetence that have produced the current chaos, one culprit stands out.
The Shiite militant group, Hezbollah, has become over the years the single biggest contributor to Lebanon’s decay. From the group’s humble beginnings as one of many armed sects fighting in the civil war in the early 80s, Hezbollah has emerged as perhaps the strongest power broker in Lebanese politics. In the Lebanese parliament, the “Party of God” exerts this influence with thirteen seats of its own and the additional 28 of its close allies Amal and FPM. Among the government agencies which Hezbollah’s sway is most felt include Lebanon’s Foreign and Health Ministries. But Hezbollah’s influence is by no means limited to specific offices. The Party ensures its agenda is fulfilled throughout the government apparatus by constantly hanging the threat of retribution over the heads of its opponents. Over the recent period, in particular, Hezbollah has shown it is totally willing–and able–to use violence against its political enemies. Dozens of incidents of Hezbollah and their allies targeting its opposition, from torching protest tents to deploying motorbike mounted men to harass demonstrators, to actually firing on protest marches, have been reported in a constant stream since late 2019.
The root of Hezbollah’s malfeasance is the fact that the wellbeing of the Lebanese people is simply not the group’s primary interest. Indeed, Hezbollah’s allegiances lie far from the Beirut halls of power in which it operates. From its very start, Hezbollah has defined itself as the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its primary benefactor. Thus the raison d’etre of Hezbollah is not to advance the betterment of Lebanon but the furthering of the Ayatollah’s Islamic Revolution. For Hezbollah, the attainment of this goal will always come at the expense of the Lebanese people. Recent actions by the militant group have shown just how far this reality extends.
On the 26th of August, Hezbollah gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops patrolling the northern border with Lebanon. In response, Israel’s air force launched retaliatory strikes on militant positions, the first such bombings by Israel since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This incident came exactly one month after the IDF thwarted a Hezbollah operation aimed at launching a cross-border attack on Israel. During the attack, at least four militants succeeded in penetrating Israeli territory near the Mount Dov area according to military sources. While Lebanon experiences its most debilitating crisis in decades, Hezbollah has decided it pertinent to divert attention and resources to instigating clashes with the Jewish state.
Another episode to show Hezbollah’s complete disregard for Lebanon’s well being and even basic security came in early August, with the now infamous Beirut port explosion. For weeks following the event, several international bodies as well as elements within Lebanon speculated on Hezbollah’s connection to the source of the blast: nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port, a material known for its use in improvised explosive devices. This has led many to the theory that Hezbollah was using public storage facilities at the port to house substances intended to be used for acts of terror.
These suspicions have been backed up by emerging evidence showing that a Cypriot businessman with possible ties to Hezbollah finance networks could be the owner of the ship that brought the ammonium nitrate to Beirut almost seven years ago. Furthermore, as one Israeli researcher has pointed out, in any case, Hezbollah is solely responsible for the negligence in how the chemical was stored in the first place. As is known, the Shiite group controls and manages both the country’s air and seaports.
For far too long, Hezbollah has capitalized on Lebanon’s state infrastructure to further its extremist and violent goals. While the effects of this have been felt for years, the compounding of several national-level crises has laid bare the extent of Hezbollah’s corruption and contempt for the Lebanese people. Beirut officials, that under regular circumstances would never be so bold as to criticize the group have, in recent months begun to call out Hezbollah for its rash behavior.
Slowly but surely, the world as well as the Lebanese themselves, are beginning to realize just how damaging the Party of God has been to the stability of their country. For a secure and thriving democracy to exist in Lebanon, the country must decisively remove this extremist faction from power.