By Baria Alamuddin *
Evidence of Lebanon’s impending collapse is mounting day by day: around 230,000 citizens have emigrated in the first four months of this year alone, a disproportionate number of them Christians. About 40 percent of Lebanese doctors and 30 percent of its nurses have left; with comparable levels among teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and other professionals. Others seek to flee as the nation falters on the brink of civil war, giving up hope for a meaningful and rewarding future in their beloved homeland.
The UN estimates that 82 percent of citizens cannot afford essential services like health care and education. With routine operations costing over a year’s salary, children who cannot afford treatment are dying outside hospitals. With the international airport threatened with closure, taxi drivers, lecturers and other segments of society are threatening civil disobedience in response to their desperate situations. Insurmountably paid soldiers and police officers have simply stepped down.
As rising sectarian and factional tensions threaten to ignite war, the duty of conscientious leaders is to calm the situation. Instead, we saw Hassan Nasrallah frantically pouring gasoline on the flames, boasting that Hezbollah has 100,000 fighters ready to go into battle.
One analysis has estimated that while Hezbollah actually has 100,000 fighters, its annual budget is probably well over $ 2 billion. Given that this is about three times what Hezbollah would have received from Tehran, this indicates either that Nasrallah was grotesquely exaggerating or that he tacitly admitted that Hezbollah had reaped billions of dollars from illegal activities, such as trafficking in drugs, weapons and people.
Nasrallah’s horrific and confrontational speech last Monday was sectarian warmongering personified: He accused Christian leaders of lying to their communities that Hezbollah has an aggressive sectarian agenda, then spent an hour aggressively threatening those communities in the most common parlance. sectarian imaginable! Anyone who previously doubted that Lebanon was on the brink of civil war now understands exactly which way the wind is blowing. Hidden deep underground, Nasrallah forgets that the Lebanese population is on the verge of starvation: therefore, his threats simply give citizens the option of slowly dying or with a quick, merciful bullet to the head.
Nasrallah has always claimed that Hezbollah exists only for the purpose of fighting Israel, or maybe Daesh – or maybe innocent Syrian citizens. This time the fig leaf has completely fallen: if other factions act in a way that Hezbollah doesn’t like, Hezbollah will start war against them and to hell with the consequences. In a second speech, Nasrallah was so engrossed in the controversial statements about Bahrain, Yemen and Palestine that he apparently did not have time to comment on the dire situation facing Lebanese citizens.
Everyone knows that Hezbollah has by far the most powerful war machine. But during the last Lebanese conflict, Israel and other regional actors were drawn into the conflagration. Israel already regrets that it did not reduce Hezbollah to its size when previous opportunities presented themselves. There is no way that Israel, the United States, or even Putin’s Russia will allow Hezbollah to emerge from this looming war as Lebanon’s supreme power. And does Hezbollah expect the Iranian economy to be a desperate case to fund post-war reconstruction in Lebanon? or perhaps the GCC states, which have long rejected Beirut as the land of Hezbollah?
For decades, super-rich businessmen in the West African diaspora from Lebanon and beyond have injected (and laundered) billions of dollars in investments into Lebanon and into Hezbollah itself. But this preferential relationship has always been based on returns on investments. Things are very different after Hezbollah and its allies wrecked the Lebanese economy, bankrupted the banks and are now determined to completely break the nation through a senseless and undefined conflict.
And where are the political leaders of Lebanon, and the government itself? The president makes vague and confused statements, as if these events are happening millions of miles away; while other faction leaders are busy making nests abroad, having sequestered families in gold-plated palaces in Paris and London, far from looming hell. They did not intervene to deal with the financial crisis, then the political crisis. We are now facing a military crisis; do they still seriously believe that they will get away with it unscathed? Roll on the day when European governments will hasten to seize and repatriate all this ill-gotten wealth!
Nasrallah’s overtly sectarian language stands out because Lebanon’s future generations largely came of age in a post-sectarian environment, regardless of each other’s confessional origins. During the protests of 2019, the demonstrators united against the Lebanese leaders discredited in their entirety: Kullun yaani kullun!
This post-sectarian spirit terrifies Nasrallah: When politics operate according to old sectarian logic, Hezbollah’s position remains relatively secure. But when activists and voters from all walks of life vote together successfully against this outdated and corrupt model, Hezbollah hopefully doesn’t stand a chance!
Nasrallah throws hand grenades into the current explosive status quo because the next election is doomed to be disastrous for his allies. The FPM has gone from occupying one of the biggest niches of the Christian community to abandoning all its support, especially after recent events. It is therefore not surprising that the only issue that animates President Aoun is the obstruction of the holding of early elections. And if this escalates into a full-scale Shia-Christian conflict, which side will Hezbollah Christian lackeys Aoun and Jibran Baseel stand on? These are dirty and ugly equations, but these are the sordid calculations of sectarian conflict.
Therefore, this is a time when Lebanese society as a whole must speak with one voice: reject bigotry and reject attempts by Hezbollah and other parties to push the nation into war. The 100,000 Hezbollah fighters count for nothing when 5 million Lebanese rise up peacefully but resolutely against them, with millions more behind them from the vast Lebanese diaspora.
The international community must also stop pretending that the difficult situation in Lebanon has nothing to do with it: the fragmentation of Lebanon means a new influx of refugees into Europe, just as Belarus has decided to arm the refugee crisis by flooding Europe with displaced Syrians. This means a confrontation that will be void in Israel and the region at large. And that implies that Hezbollah becomes even more clearly criminal and terrorist in its orientation.
And where is the Arab world as the Lebanese volcano is about to erupt in their midst? Lebanon is the beating heart of the Arab world. Is there a single family in the entire Gulf that does not have family, emotional or material ties with Lebanon? A Lebanese crisis is never simply a Lebanese crisis – such disputes have always been internationalized in nature. Even parties that wish to remain neutral will quickly be drawn into the conflagration.
Better that Lebanon’s closest friends act now, before Nasrallah and Tehran’s miscalculations erupt in everyone’s face.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and UK. She is the editor-in-chief of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.