The Lebanese Republic, at one point, was the most prosperous in the modern-day Middle East. With a strong economy and excellent relations with the West and East, Lebanon was the region’s powerhouse, while current regional powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE were still developing.
Unfortunately for Lebanon, two brutal civil wars divided the country on sectarian and class ideologies, with the second war in the mid-70s being the most tumultuous. While the government and various militias were significantly weakened from the civil war, one particular paramilitary reaped the spoils of the chaos—Hezbollah.
Hezbollah would conduct suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks against UN peacekeepers, particularly US Marines and French paratroopers, ultimately leading to their withdrawal under public outrage. The paramilitaries would then fight Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon, gaining widespread support from Lebanese of all sects as they saw the IDF more as occupiers than neighbors.
The Iranian-created militia was not only supplemented by Tehran but by Damascus as well. Assad’s Syria, which enacted a three-decade-long occupation, fueled Hezbollah with weapons and avenues of illicit black market activities and drug trades across Latin America. The group ultimately became Lebanon’s most significant political party and strongest militia, eclipsing the unprofessional Lebanese Security Forces.
Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon’s entire security apparatus. Nothing goes through the Syrian-Lebanese border without the militia’s approval. Even foreign policy-related issues, such as the maritime dispute against Israel, brokered by the Biden Administration, could not have been finalized without Beirut’s support from Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s Ongoing Situation
Lebanon suffers from one of the worst collapses of a once stable government that hasn’t been capable in decades. Unemployment is at an all-time high, antiquities have been neglected, the energy grid can barely produce, and hyperinflation has destroyed the value of the Lebanese lira.
The government in Beirut has remained in gridlock with numerous cases of embezzlement, neglect, and disregard for the republic. Hezbollah is deeply embedded in the government, and ministers who have denounced the group have suffered unfortunate fates. One such example was the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which was linked back to the organization.
Along with perpetual political bickering, Lebanon is also caught in the crossfire of various proxy conflicts, as the republic, with a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups, is ripe for exacerbation in the region. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Israel, UAE, France, and the US have all invested in Lebanon economically, politically, or militarily for their geopolitical purposes, which has only heightened factionalism in the country.
What is Federalism?
Federalism is defined as a system of government where certain powers belong to the states while others belong to the federal government. According to the United States, a federal system requires two echelons of government.
Lebanon’s sectarian system is exceptionally diverse, with ethnic and religious communities forming their own de facto cantons nationwide. One such example is Mount Lebanon, the power base of the Maronites, and the South, which is the stronghold of the Shiites, particularly Hezbollah.
In the federal system, each ethno-religious group would have its own system of government, independent from the cantons but answering to the government overall. One could argue Lebanon already has a state within a state. Hezbollah has its own set of rules and regulations in the South and the border with Syria that the Lebanese government has no control over.
What is Partition?
In geopolitical terms, partition is defined as a change of borders in one’s homeland. Examples of partitioned nations include South Sudan from Sudan, the British partition of the Indian subcontinent, the initial partition of Vietnam by the French after the First Indochina War, Czechoslovakia into Czechia and Slovakia, and Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland.
Partition has both pros and cons—particularly in last-resort politics. Partition is pursued in lieu of widespread ethnic expulsion or genocide, as seen with the Christians of South Sudan breaking away from their northern neighbor. A negative effect would be the difficulty in drawing new borders, which could mark violence and security issues, as seen with the partition of India that led to widespread massacres.
The aforementioned Lebanese demographics are very diverse, and though the country has strongholds of certain ethnic and religious groups, they are also very dispersed. In the South and Bekka Valley, many Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Druze, and some Sunnis live in the Hezbollah-dominated regions.
Some Christian majority parties are heavily influenced and collaborate with the Iranian axis, such as Marada, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, and the Free Patriotic Movement. Even if partition took place, Lebanon could become a bloody ground for warlords to consolidate as much territory as possible, akin to the former Yugoslavia, or forced population transfers akin to the Indian Subcontinent and Greece and Turkey in 1923.
Lebanon Must Break With Hezbollah to Begin Recovery
Though heavily embedded in Lebanese society and security, Beirut will never begin a path of recovery as long as Hezbollah remains in Lebanon. The long-standing approach to investments and financial recovery remains hindered as long as a terrorist organization intertwines with Lebanon.
Further disasters akin to the Beirut Blast can occur, as Hezbollah has continuously smuggled the unstable ammonium nitrate with help from Iran and Bashir al Assad. Captagon is the black market drug of choice for the militia’s operations at the behest of the IRGC and Assad, and a crisis has plagued the Middle East because of the Axis’ drug trade.
Lebanon’s government also cannot function without Hezbollah’s approval, as seen with a year-long gridlock to elect a new president that requires the organization’s votes in parliament. With Israel and Iran in a war footing posture, seven million Lebanese could enter the crossfire as Iran’s most potent militia has its headquarters in the South.
Lebanon is currently a failed state with potential in the region, but the rebirth of a Phoenix can only happen by addressing the elephant in the room. Even with many problems that must be addressed, Hezbollah remains the most significant obstacle to the Levantine nation.