Lebanon, though small, is strategically located between East and West — for centuries a beacon of cultural and religious freedom, economic growth and political stability in a less developed and relatively illiberal region of the world. Lebanon’s location has proven to be both a blessing and a curse as it has transformed a country full of potential to an impoverished conflict-ridden and sectarian entity. Grand geopolitical projects have significantly produced repercussions on locals who often fall victim to myths of ‘ancient hatred’ between sects, in turn fuelled by a lack of trust, which continue to be nurtured by war-lords driven by a power struggle for the supposed sake of supporting and protecting their respective sect.
Lebanon, for a long time, fell under a handful of spheres of influence (rather than one hegemonic influential power). Currently, Hizbollah dominates all aspect of political life by (1) controlling state institutions and (2) terrorizing those who oppose the organizations’ unlawful activities. Hizbollah knows the in-s and out-s of Lebanon’s only civilian airport and of course, the now destroyed Port of Beirut. It drags Lebanon into proxy wars and speaks on behalf of its people. This precarious situation has put Lebanon under the suzerainty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the patron country which created Hizbollah, continues to fund it and commands its every move. Lebanon is held hostage and the Lebanese are being used as pawns of Iran who cares not of our future, but seeks to lead us into absolute ruin as it has done and continues to do with its own people, themselves suffering from their despicable regime. It is difficult to imagine prosperity without some form of sovereignty.
Our capitalist-realist world driven by modernity supposes a “give and take” attitude in international affairs. What can Lebanon offer the grand powers of the region and the world? — the quite inherent and very important position Lebanon held between the mid-1940s and the early 1970s (especially) in geopolitics is now in question. It is definitely not all about us; there are other developments happening around, which technically have nothing to do with us, but have implications on our present and future. For example, Erdogan’s neo-ottoman ambitions in the north of our country with regards to the Sunni community is tangible proof that the traditional patron of the Sunni community, Saudi Arabia, has practically left the scene or is now rarely involved in the political and economic happenings here. Saudi Arabia’s absolute hatred of Hizbollah, prompted the country to allegedly arrest the Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and have him resign on public television blaming Hizbollah for Lebanon’s problems. Saudi Arabia banned Lebanese fruits and vegetables after Captagon pills were found being smuggled into the country in the Spring of 2021; Hizbollah was largely accused of being responsible. Turkey’s growing presence not only threatens the wellbeing of the Lebanese-Armenian community, but also exemplifies the staunch ideology it upholds and wants to propagate — Sunni political Islam. Turkey and its friend Qatar are at odds with Saudi Arabia because the former have misaligned themselves from the international community which continues to witness grand changes, especially since Trump’s tenure as president of the United States. This is not even half the story, as the Muslim Brotherhood organization is largely to blame for this geopolitical contention…
What can Lebanon offer the wealthy Gulf states that Israel cannot? — in fact, the Gulf countries are at loss with regards to their investments here because the golden age of a booming Lebanese economy is long gone. There are new countries on the market and Israel is one of them. Good — or at least cordial — relations with Israel are proving to be prosperous to both parties. The normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was not only geopolitical in nature, as the former is Iran’s number one foe and the latter is wary of Iran’s ambitions in the Persian gulf and the greater Middle East region (such as in Yemen), but also economic and cultural. During the numerous spats between the UAE and Lebanon (due to Hizbollah), the former expels — or threatens to — Lebanese expats living on its territory. Lebanon is not indispensable.
The Wilayit el Faqih, with Iran at its head, also englobes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The ‘resistance axis’, Hizbollah often calls it. It is puzzling to come to terms with what this axis is resisting against. Right after the Islamic revolution of 1979, the secular and communist factions were as guilty of treachery as the loyal subjects of the Shah. During the war with Iraq in 1980, Iranian soldiers were told they were doing this grand deed for both Allah and the resistance — noting that it was Iran that tried to invade Iraq in the first place. The Islamists in Iran de-recognized Israel as an independent state and put an end to diplomatic relations; soon enough, Israel became a menace to Iran and therefore ‘resistance’ was needed to free Al-Quds from the Jews. Hizbollah was established in 1982 as a resistance movement against the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, but it did not take them long enough to use their weapons against the fellow Lebanese they deemed to protect by storming Beirut and creating havoc in May of 2008, for example. Hizbollah redefined geography as the road to Al-Quds now passed through Damascus and other government-controlled areas in Syria during the civil war there. The group committed terrorist attacks in Argentina, Bulgaria and Cyprus. They have also been involved in the war in Yemen, siding with the Iran-backed Houthis. Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that Iran is willing to sell fuel to Lebanon and accepts payments in LBP, which is both absurd and hilarious at the same time. Nevertheless, Lebanon (better yet, Hizbollah) did receive a limited amount of fuel from Iran eventually. Lebanon does not have a shortage of countries offering to sell us fuel; the only catch is that we cannot afford to pay them for it. Lebanon is not under sanctions and the lack of fuel is not caused by the West but by Iran’s proxy Hizbollah’s activities. Knowing that in 2022, Hizbollah is in absolute control of Lebanon, how do we expect good relations with the immediate countries in the region or with the rest of the world, most of whom have declared Hizbollah a terrorist organization?
Who is friends with Lebanon? surely there must be at least one country that actually cares about our collective wellbeing! — if my memory serves me well, French president Macron was the first public official to visit the Beirut Blast site. He offered his condolences, provided solace to survivors and promised to hold our despicable political establishment accountable; not for the blast specifically, but for the tragedies that have befallen us, one after the other in the past years. Macron sat on the same negotiating table with the culprits. His major faux-pas was lending an invitation to Hizbollah, claiming, we, Lebanese, have freely elected them. Nevertheless, many had high hopes with regard to Macron’s promise and commitment to “never leave [us]”. Eventually, he came to realize the complexity of the situation the hard way. Quite embarrassing.
Two other lesser-known European actors are Greece and Cyprus. Not only do we have historic relations with them, but they have been intermediaries between Lebanon and Israel over maritime borders for a long time before the United States took up this role last year. They both constantly complain about the environmental ramifications our reckless mistreatment of the sea has had due to sheer garbage from Lebanon reaching their shores. A recent phenomenon is the attempt of a few Lebanese from trying to reach the Cypriot shore illegally.
The two countries are indeed overwhelmingly Orthodox, but the true ‘patron’ of Orthodoxy in Lebanon is Russia. It uses the Orthodox church(es) in the country as leverage on the basis that it is capable of providing security to the Christians of the region. Lest not forget, Russia is an authoritarian(-like) state and an ally of Syrian dictator Bachar Al-Assad. Arguably the most hated man in the country, Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and son-in-law of the President, Michel Aoun, went to Moscow to speak on behalf of the ‘threatened’ christians of the East. In one interview, Dima Sadek, a prominent Lebanese journalist, explained Russia’s desire to be involved in Lebanon quite clearly; she said that unlike the EU, Russia does not seek reforms because it does not care. It could either offer financial aid or even invest in the country seeking nothing but a piece of the Lebanese pie; thus contributing to the already present corruption. “Looking to the East” as an alternative to the West would be a mistake. We do need good relations with the East, countries such as Russia, China and India among others, have a lot to offer; but we must not fool ourselves thinking we can replace the West’s hegemony in international affairs.
At the forefront of the simple definition of the “West” is the United States. There have been three different administrations in the White House, Obama, Trump and Biden; each having a different viewpoint or position on affairs pertaining to the Middle East. One could argue, all three have positive and negative attributes depending on how one looks at the different circumstances. Oftentimes change would happen gradually, but with Trump, it happened sharply. He withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, sponsored the Abraham Accords, recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, came up with a “Peace Plan” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ordered the killing of Qassem Suleimani and even imposed sanctions on Hizbollah officials and Gebran Bassil, among others. He also betrayed his Kurdish allies by withdrawing from Syria. His hawkish stance made him unpredictable. His tenure showed how the Gulf states are all about maintaining their existence and power, but also hegemony in our grander region; Trump was accused of islamophobia and racism but this did not deter the “the custodians of the holy mosques”, the Saudis, from buying weapons from the US (to use in Yemen, most notably). Instead, they considered each other the best of allies. Biden, is on the softer side; he removed the Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations and currently somehow seeks rapprochement with Iran through a remodelling of the Nuclear Deal. As of writing, he has only been in office for a year, which means time will tell what other drastic changes from previous administrations he would do with regards to the Middle East.
This article, through its examples, showed how Hizbollah is the main instigator of chaos, collective suffering and isolationism, serving Iran’s wishes to the core. It is normal for a state to have personal interests, it is okay to invest in X country and seek something in return. The only problem is when this “something” is a part of X country’s sovereignty.
Photo: Anti-Saudi poster in the southern suburb of Beirut, a Hizbollah stronghold.