Lebanon is a nation that has gone through a turbulent economic situation ever since its cataclysmic civil war ended in 1990. Left with a weakened state, warlords who held onto power for decades, and a terrorist organization controlling its security apparatus, the Levantine nation has become internationally isolated over the past several decades.
In the early 90s, Lebanon went through a slow economic and demographic crisis as many of its best and brightest emigrated after the war. This process has sped up in the past several years as the country’s economic situation has rapidly deteriorated, with fears of another armed conflict on the horizon.
Dozens of MPs have pledged to improve the state for years, but all have failed to uphold their promise and taken advantage of the lack of checks and balances to embezzle public funds. The Beirut Blast would symbolize how much of a catastrophe awaits Lebanon, which is rapidly deteriorating into a Somalia/Afghanistan failed-state situation.
The once economic powerhouse of the Middle East has become a powder keg of turmoil, corruption, drug trafficking, and a haven for warlords. With regional tensions heightened between Israel, America, and Iran, Lebanon, which hosts Iran’s most powerful militia, could raise the alarm and potentially be America’s next Middle East intervention.
America’s History with Lebanon
When Lebanon sought its independence after the Second World War, the United States put pressure on the French government to do so. Decolonization was a major policy of the US towards Western Europe in order to have funds for reconstruction after the war and from this, Washington established friendly relations with Beirut.
Lebanon was heavily dominated by a Christian Maronite government, which leftist and pan-Arabist groups in the country resented. This would lead to the 1958 Crisis and Civil War.
During the crisis, then President Camille Chamoun requested help from their former colonial overlords, France—but they rejected it as they prioritized attempting to put down a revolution in Algeria. He then requested military intervention from the United States to put down the pan-Arabist-Nasserist-communist bloc. As Chamoun was a pro-western and staunch anti-communist president of Lebanon, it was deemed essential to back him during the Cold War.
US Marines would land on the outskirts of Beirut along the shorelines of the capital. Ultimately an agreement was implemented in Lebanon that avoided a much larger regional war, as the Soviet Union also had plans to intervene.
Effectively taking the stage as the last remaining superpower of the Cold War as the Soviet Union declined in the mid-70s, the United States would lead an international peacekeeping mission during Lebanon’s second civil war. The second civil war would be much deadlier and change Lebanese-American relations drastically.
During the peacekeeping mission, hardline militias created by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) directly attacked American assets in the country. The Marine Barracks Bombing killed over 241 American military personnel and the US embassy was subsequently destroyed by a suicide bombing as well. Lebanon would then be indirectly ruled under Baathist Syria for three decades until the United States and Cedar Revolution forced Syrian Forces to withdraw in 2005.
Iran’s Foothold in Lebanon
The Iranian Revolution saw the long-standing Pahlavi monarchy overthrown by the hardline theocratic Mullahs led by Ruhollah Khomeini. Not wanting just a hardline Islamic theocracy in Iran, Khomeini would dispatch his personal army, the IRGC to ‘export’ the revolution across the Middle East—Lebanon would become the example.
Several hundred IRGC officers were flown to a destabilized Lebanon and connected with the disenfranchised Shiite community. Using their emotions as a perfect recruitment tool, the IRGC helped create the Islamic Jihad Organization, a precursor to Hezbollah, which was commanded by Iranian veterans. With the goal of expelling Western peacekeepers and Israel from the country, this new organization would quickly become dominant in Lebanon.
High-valued attacks against embassies, military bases, and Israeli convoys quickly made the group popular, and ultimately Hezbollah became the only militia left in Lebanon with heavy weaponry. Supported by Assad and his Syrian troops that occupied the nation for another two decades, the Iranian-backed militia held a constant flow of arms.
After waging multiple wars against Israel, with the 2006 one giving Hezbollah a major popularity boost in the Arab world, Iran had solidified their foothold in the nation. The militia would become Lebanon’s largest political party as demographics greatly shifted when millions of Lebanese migrated for better opportunities. In some cases, Hezbollah became better at providing social services than the highly inept Lebanese government (which behind the scenes answers to the group).
State of Lebanon
Lebanon is currently facing one of the world’s most rapidly deteriorating economic collapses in modern history. The best and brightest have left, while the younger generation has applied for visas around the world due to the deteriorating state. The worst of Lebanon has consolidated power and the country is ruled by the same warlords that dragged their neighbors out of their homes and executed them.
The Lebanese government is highly inept, and even when Lebanon’s former President finished his term, the MPs still have not been able to elect a new one nearly seven months later. Hezbollah is a major player in the government and despite their popularity decreasing, the government cannot form without them or their other pro-Iranian Shia partners, the Amal Movement.
With a collapsing currency, uncertainty in government, and negligence, the people of Lebanon would suffer from this, particularly the Beirut Port Blast. Ammonium nitrate, funneled by Assad and Hezbollah, was stored in an unstable condition in Lebanon’s port with many parliamentary and military members knowing this. The chemicals combusted in August 2020, which destroyed the port and most grain soils and marked the state of the nation.
Though a judiciary investigation has been ongoing, there have been no major arrests, and pro-Hezbollah parties affiliated with the corrupt inner circle have done their best to block and dismiss the investigation. With no sign of light in the darkness, the country’s future continues to look bleak.
Increased Tensions in the Region
The United States, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and France mark the countries that continuously finance the Lebanese government to keep it from collapsing. Particularly, the State Department funds the salaries of the Lebanese Security Forces to keep them from collapse.
Lebanon’s socioeconomic issues have been at a boiling point, with many in the country calling for the expulsion of two million Syrians back across the border due to the financial strain on the economy. The South, which is directly governed and controlled directly by Hezbollah, has seen increased tensions with UN Peacekeepers and Israel.
Cross-border attacks have up-ticked the past two years as Hamas’ Chief has met with the militia’s leadership to set up another front against Israel inside the heavily armed Palestinian camps in the south, which the Lebanese army is incapable of militarily stopping. Israel’s President has stated he will not allow this power base and the IDF and reserves have been placed on high alert.
Preparing for Escalation
There are several potential scenarios America must prepare for that would be detrimental to regional security. The first is a potential regional war between Israel and Iran—especially if the latter achieves nuclear weapons. Hezbollah and Hamas directly receive funding and orders from the IRGC, and the recent uptick of a united front has the hallmarks of the Islamic Republic—one of the reasons why the Pentagon announced the movements of one of its nuclear subs to the region.
Another regional threat is the uptick in attacks by Iranian-backed militias against US forces in Syria, a country that holds a major IRGC and Hezbollah’s presence. Assad and the Quds Force have transferred a wide variety of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, some of which could target American forces, along with naval and civilian ships in the Eastern Mediterranean.
If Lebanon continues to spiral into collapse, the country could once again become a lawless nation. Like the civil war in the 70s, the country became a safe haven for warlords and drug lords, and the IRGC and other hardline groups used the lack of security in the country for militant training camps. Akin to Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and the late USSR, if central authority continues to diminish, a new round of wars and ethnic violence could take place, once again requiring international intervention.
Lebanon was once the shining jewel of the Middle East, and if it falls into another catastrophic collapse or becomes trapped in a potential war, it would leave a humanitarian crisis the world cannot afford. With the rise of warlords in the region and Iranian proxies becoming ever more emboldened, US Central Command and now the biggest American embassy must prepare for all contingency options.