Lebanon isn’t in the news much these days but has the potential to blow up into a major conflict.
The country is facing a couple of big problems right now
Firstly, Lebanon is going through one of the deepest economic crises in the world today — a crisis that puts it in the precipice of becoming a failed state. Years of rampant corruption and terrible governing has left it with a huge debt problem. And help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) won’t be forthcoming. Why? Because the Lebanese government won’t ask for it. And the reason is simple: Hezbollah won’t accept the conditions that the IMF will set in bailing the country out.
Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said, a month ago, that Hezbollah was against the type of terms typically imposed by the IMF as part of any bailout.
“The position is not toward the Fund as an international financial institution but on the terms offered to Lebanon because they will lead to a popular revolution,” (author’s emphasis) Fadhallah said.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, the Deputy Hezbollah leader in Lebanon called the IMF “a tool of the Americans” adding that “Lebanon would not submit.”
But the biggest problem facing Lebanon and the Lebanese people is Hezbollah.
Hezbollah may have a Lebanese face, such as Fadlallah and Qassem, but it isn’t Lebanese at all. It is Iranian and takes its guidance from Tehran. Hassan Nasrallah, the bombastic Hezbollah leader, will execute any orders from Iran whether it benefits Lebanon or not, even if it means the destruction of the country so long as it benefits Tehran’s long-range goals.
Hezbollah was founded in 1982 as part of an Iranian plan to concentrate a number of militant Lebanese Shia groups into one unified organization, that takes its guidance from Tehran.
Hezbollah has been an actor for Iran in the nearly 40-year proxy conflict against Israel. (The organization’s long-term goal is the destruction of the Jewish state.)
Hezbollah’s military wing was initially trained and organized by 1,500 Revolutionary Guards (Quds Force) that arrived from Iran with permission from the Syrian government, which was occupying Lebanon at the time.
Hezbollah’s objectives, as listed in its 1985 manifesto, sound remarkably like oft-repeated Iranian goals: The total expulsion of “the Americans, the French and their allies completely from Lebanon, putting an end to any colonialist entity on our land.” The submission of the Christians to “just power” and bringing them to justice “for the crimes they have perpetrated against Muslims.” And allowing “all the sons of our people” to choose the form of government they want — while calling on them to “pick the option of Islamic government.”
The U.S. has named Hezbollah as a global terrorist organization and that is an apt description for it.
Hezbollah was behind an attack against a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people and injured hundreds. This was followed in 1996 by the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers, part of a complex in Saudi Arabia that housed members of the coalition forces monitoring the no-fly zones in Iraq. A total of 19 American servicemen and one Saudi national were killed.
In 2009, the Egyptians arrested 49 members of a Hezbollah cell who were planning attacks on Israeli targets from Egyptian territory. In 2014, authorities in Peru arrested a Hezbollah Lebanese national; he was charged with plotting attacks against Jewish targets. In 2012, Bulgarian security officials uncovered “well-grounded” evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for the suicide bombing of a busload of Israeli tourists.
In 2017, Kuwaiti security officials arrested an undercover Hezbollah terrorist cell. In 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), convicted six Lebanese nationals, members of Hezbollah, who were setting up a terrorist cell in the country.
Hezbollah also had five of its members indicted for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Hariri himself tried to convince the world that Hezbollah wasn’t a terrorist organization but simply a militia driven by the goal to oust the Israelis from then-occupied Lebanon. After the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, however, that designation and Hariri were soon erased.
Washington has thrown its support behind the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), for several years “as the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon’s sovereignty.” The U.S. has invested nearly two billion dollars in support of the Lebanese armed forces. And the armed forces have done well against al-Qaeda and ISIS terror groups that were trying to gain a foothold in Lebanon.
In 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported that Lebanon was “[the] only country in the region to successfully expel ISIS from its territory without the involvement of U.S. ground forces.”
However, there was a big caveat there. The Lebanese army did so while working hand-in-hand with Hezbollah. This went contrary to the aid terms stipulated by the U.S., which were for the LAF to protect Lebanon from external threats “and internal threats from non-state actors, including Hezbollah.” The U.S. expected the LAF to use the funding to “interdict arms shipments, and prevent the use of Lebanon as a safe haven for terrorist groups.” The LFA have clearly not been following through the deal and have been loath to move against Hezbollah.
Most intelligence indicates that Hezbollah is much stronger than the Lebanese army. Any conflict between the two would be a total bloodbath.
With an arsenal of an estimated 130,000 rockets and missiles, Hezbollah, according to Israeli estimates, has more rockets than many European countries. Reports have also surfaced that Quds Force are working with Hezbollah to create facilities in Lebanon to convert most of these unguided rockets and missiles to precision-guided munitions.
These would make the missiles much more dangerous, being able to strike within a few meters of their intended target. Intelligence estimates claim that Hezbollah now possesses a few hundred of these precision-guided missiles. These weapons would give them the ability to strike hard at any target in Israel and overwhelm their “Iron Dome” air defenses.
In the past, Israel hasn’t hesitated to preemptively strike these warehouses and facilities, as we’ve seen in Syria and Lebanon itself. But Hezbollah has placed these facilities smack in the middle of heavily populated residential areas. Any strike, even by guided munitions, would result in an absolute carnage of the Lebanese population. That would be a major concern for any Lebanese leaders, but in Tehran, it doesn’t matter, as the ends would justify the means.
Would the U.S. decide to cut back on funding since the LFA aren’t living up to the terms? It is entirely possible: The current administration has shown that it will always be willing to flip if the situation arises.
The LAF are caught in a mess not of their own. If they do nothing against Hezbollah, they risk losing American funding and support and will end up dominated by Hezbollah, which may lead to a wide-open shooting war with Israel. And that’s exactly what the mullahs in Tehran are looking for. Thousands of Lebanese dead are merely a tool for the ayatollahs to reach their ultimate objective. But if the LFA turn against Hezbollah a very bloody civil war will ensue.
So, the answer may end up being an economic one. But simply giving the Lebanese the capital to ease their economic crisis will not solve the problem. Indeed, it will only further fund worldwide terrorism. Simply put any bailout must include very stringent restrictions that will ensure that funding will be spent towards spurring Lebanon’s growth and overcoming the looming coronavirus crisis, and not rerouted towards bolstering Hezbollah’s terror network.
For example, the IMF bailout should force Lebanon to uphold and defend international resolutions, including the 2006 UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for disarming Hezbollah.
The window of opportunity exists for the diffusion of a powder keg that could make all of the other wars in the Middle East pale in comparison. But that window won’t be open long and it won’t come without cost.