As the Lebanese State nears complete economic collapse, fear-mongering spreads throughout Israeli and Western media with claims that the country will fall into the hands of Hezbollah, without an acknowledgement of how the West and its allies have aided the country’s collapse.
Ignoring the impact of Western imposed sanctions and the corrupt Lebanese establishment, as well as the multitude of other issues impacting the country, anti-Hezbollah figures are plucking at straws to try and find an angle to blame the Iran-backed group for Lebanon’s failings.
According to a recent Reuters report, Lebanese Political-Party Hezbollah is readying itself for the possible implosion of the Lebanese State, issuing ration cards and working on delivering goods such as food and fuel to its Shia support base and beyond. The ‘Al-Sajjad’ ration cards, according to a Hezbollah source quoted by France 24 are granted by Hezbollah and are to be used at cooperatives set up consisting of “Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian products”.
Hezbollah already operates multiple charities, a construction firm and pension system. There has been concern cited over the expansion of Hezbollah’s support program in the country, by some analysts, and in the group’s ability to operate a “parallel economy”. The idea of local groups and militias providing for the Lebanese people dates back to the era of the 1975-1990 civil war, where the State did not play the predominant role of providing for its populace.
Yet despite such fear-mongering around a Hezbollah takeover of State affairs, the reality is that Lebanon has never stopped operating based upon political organisations and militias providing for their support bases in the country. The Christian ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ has also given loans to its supporters to help them through the current crisis. Other groups belonging both to the ‘March 8 Alliance’ and ‘March 14 Alliance’ alike have also stepped in for their supporters.
If Hezbollah was to allow Lebanon to sink without acting to provide for its people, then along with the State the group itself would fall, as would all other groups regardless of sect. Lebanon is also a country fundamentally built on sectarian divide, which has enabled for many states within the state to exist simultaneously throughout its history.
Since the resignation of then Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, following widespread protests against corruption and tax increases in 2019, the country has been in limbo as the price of goods has roughly tripled in that time. In August of 2020, one week after the infamous ‘Beirut port explosion’, newly crowned Prime Minister Hassan Diab also resigned.
With France’s Emmanuel Macron leading the international push towards the formation of a technocratic government and reforms, Saad Hariri was again named PM designate and has since failed to form a cabinet despite holding almost 20 meetings with the country’s President Michel Aoun. The formation of a government is largely seen as the key to unlocking international aid, as the small loans, like was last approved in March, are not nearly enough to provide for the some 55% of Lebanon’s population which live in poverty according to the UN.
Despite France appearing as a moral arbiter here, the French Initiative, although at first ambiguous, now stinks of a colonial type takeover of Lebanon under the control of their allied Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Lebanese political analyst, Gassan Saud, wrote in an article for al-Mayadeen News, that from the 1990’s the French managed to re-engineer their dealings inside Lebanon, under former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, leading to an introduction of French companies or French-Lebanese companies into most sectors of the economy.
“Most of the large Lebanese banks are in fact Lebanese-French banks. Most of the companies monopolizing medicine, food products, cars, spare parts, fuel and transportation that have accumulated imaginary wealth and that have done so at the expense of impoverishing the Lebanese productive sectors are French-Lebanese companies,” Ghassan stated.
The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has continually addressed the issue of a government formation, publicly calling for it to occur and warning that the implications of the current climate of despair in Lebanon could lead to a civil-war if not remedied. Nasrallah has also dispelled what he calls lies about Hezbollah, aimed at portraying the group as being behind the prevention of a cabinet formation.
What Hezbollah is now doing may well help to expand its support base, however it does not represent a takeover of the country, but rather a helping hand to the poorest in Lebanese society.
The allegations espoused by opponents of Hezbollah, attempting to shift the blame onto the group over the dramatic decline of the Lebanese state, are missing the profound impact that unstable Lebanon has on Hezbollah, which does not work to forward their stated goals. Taking over Lebanon would crush the country further and make it a pariah state, led by a US designated terrorist organisation, something that the group would fail to benefit from.
The roots of the crisis in Lebanon are to be found not only in a sectarian divide – exacerbated by a foreign backed civil war, a former Israeli occupation and a constitution written under French colonial rule mandating a confessionalist/sectarian system – but also the nation’s ponzi scheme economy which set Lebanon on the path to failure. Loans from the IMF did not help the country recover, under the rule of its corrupt elite class, as foreign money from Gulf Arab States and the West dominated its markets.
When the Syrian war began, Lebanon also suffered as its closest trading partner and lost its own means to sustain a stable economy, further compounded by the horrendous sanction regimes of the EU and US, which have only increased over the past years. This was all before the announcement of Covid-19 and was prior to the decimation of the country’s key port in Beirut.
If the argument is that Hezbollah, by providing cheap goods to the poorest amongst its support base, is somehow committing a horrendous crime and takeover of the country, the group’s critics best find another angle to push their agenda. Lebanon is a country run along sectarian lines, with the involvement of multiple foreign countries, the least concerning aspect of which is a plan to keep food in the bellies of the Lebanese people.