Middle East House subcommittee meets to discuss Lebanon crisis


WASHINGTON – The House Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism met on Thursday to discuss the “political paralysis of Lebanon, the economic crisis and the challenges of American politics.

Representative Ted Deutch (D-Florida), chairman of the committee, said that the resignation of Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri two weeks ago after nine months of efforts to form a government “illustrates the political stalemate in Lebanon and the inability or unwillingness of political elites to avoid or mitigate the current economic crisis and the resulting instability.

“This poses a challenge for the international community, which seeks to link assistance programs with the implementation of increased accountability, transparency and anti-corruption measures,” he said.

Deutch went on to say that he had encouraged the Biden administration “to strongly support such an approach and to consider additional measures to tackle corruption among Lebanese officials if the status quo persists or worsens, sending a signal that we will use the power of our system finances to root out corruption and promote stability.

“At the same time, the consequences of further deterioration are extremely worrying and must be avoided,” he continued. “For example, the region cannot absorb another mass exodus of refugees. We must be aware of the recent civil war in Lebanon and pervasive sectarian tensions and also avoid any measures aimed at catalyzing sectarianism and internal conflicts, and particularly sensitive to the fact that a state collapse would likely strengthen the influence of the American adversaries in Lebanon, including Iran. , Syria and Hezbollah.

“The United States has provided more than $ 2.7 billion in humanitarian aid to Lebanon since fiscal 2012 and must continue to meet the needs of refugees,” he noted. “I hope we will see an international effort to help the Lebanese people and to help prevent a total humanitarian collapse.”

Ranking member Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) said “Iran has maintained its significant interference in Lebanon through terrorist proxies posing as a legitimate political party.”

“The past year has shown that the Lebanese people are tired of the influence of Hezbollah and the rampant corruption emanating from its political class. Despite the generous support of the international community, there is little effort to eradicate corruption, ”Wilson said. “Providing more resources to Hezbollah and the brutal neighboring Assad regime will do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese people. Until the corruption issue is resolved, I fear the Lebanese people will continue to suffer. “

Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor to the vice president for Middle East and North Africa at the United States Peace Institute, said it was “difficult to overestimate both the seriousness and the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and the detrimental impact that the collapse of the state would have on the national security interests of the United States. “Lebanon is in free fall, propelled by a series of cascading crises,” she said.

The statistics reflecting Lebanon’s rapid downward spiral are staggering, Yacoubian said. “The Lebanese pound has lost over 90% of its value. Hyperinflation has set in, with food prices rising over 600%. The economy contracted 20 percent last year. The humanitarian impacts are also dire: more than 50 percent of Lebanese now live below the poverty line, and 25 percent live in extreme poverty. The UN estimates that 75 percent of Lebanese families are food insecure.

She noted that UNICEF warns that more than 70 percent of Lebanese are at immediate risk of losing access to safe drinking water when public water supply systems collapse. “If left unresolved, Lebanon’s cascading crises could cause a total breakdown in security, either from top to bottom or from bottom to top,” Yacoubian said. “Concerns are growing that the army will not be able to meet the basic needs of its soldiers, precipitating the collapse of the only institution preventing total chaos in Lebanon.

The country is also threatened by an upward social explosion as tensions rise and protests, riots and even armed clashes become politically more common. Lebanon is at an impasse, with politicians slow to act. “

The United States should focus on four urgent priorities, she suggested. “First, to provide additional humanitarian aid through direct cash assistance to the most vulnerable Lebanese; second, maintain pressure on the Lebanese political class to ensure the immediate formation of a cabinet and the implementation of reforms. The United States should develop enforcement measures to convey the credible threat of targeted sanctions against those who hamper progress on these critical milestones. The third step, she said, is to provide additional support to the Lebanese armed forces. And finally, she said, “insist that the 2022 elections be held on time and restore funding for election monitoring.”

Randa Slim, senior researcher and director of conflict resolution at the Middle East Institute, said Lebanon faces the most acute economic crisis since the famine crisis of World War I. “It is the result of decades of systemic corruption and mismanagement of public funds by a political class working in concert with Lebanese financial and banking officials,” she said. “The economic crisis has impoverished the majority of the Lebanese. The once strong Lebanese middle class is rapidly disappearing. Vulnerable groups, including women, children and refugee communities, bear the brunt of deteriorating conditions. On the security front, two alarming trends are emerging.

She went on to say that “the image that Hezbollah has spent years cultivating inside Lebanon, especially among Lebanon’s Shiites, as an uncorrupted, anti-establishment group is no more. He is now widely seen as an integral part of the corrupt political class that brought the Lebanese into the terrible condition they find themselves in. “

“Russia is increasingly looking at Lebanon as part of its expansionist strategy in the Mediterranean region,” she warned. “If we cede ground to Lebanon, Iran and Russia will quickly fill the void. Working with allies and partners in Europe and the Arab region, the United States should mobilize humanitarian assistance to lessen the impact of the economic crisis on people’s lives.

David Schenker, Taube Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former deputy secretary of the State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, addressed Hezbollah’s actions. “The precision guided missile project led by Hezbollah has been defined by Israel as a red line,” he said. “It’s basically about turning what are 150,000 stupid rockets and missiles into very smart and precise missiles. And this is a strategic threat to Israel.

“What I tried to do when I was in the administration was to strengthen the mandate of UNIFIL,” he added. “If they’re not doing the job, which was to prevent Hezbollah from rearming after 2006, well, why do they have to be 15,000 or 10,000?” I think there should be less or that they should actually work to implement their mandate and that the Lebanese government should be held accountable. “


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