Today we hear constantly of an imminent Lebanese economic collapse, something we have heard before. The wealthy show up nightly for entertainment at the clubs and as always Lebanese women outdo the rest of the most sophisticated Western women in dress and makeup. But the poor are trying to survive using paper money that has little value, and no prospects for any upturn in the foreseeable future. Lebanon imports almost all their food, and for centuries have lived on their business acumen and quick wit. Today that seems to have failed them. Most of the poor cannot afford to pay for the food to keep their families going.In the massively corrupt Lebanese society , made much worse by the pervasive corruption of the ruling Hezbollah mafia like organization that controls all the major institutions of Lebanon, including the military. Some would go so far as to state that the Lebanese Army is a wing of the Hezbollah organization. It certainly cannot act without Hezbollah blessing.
The slide of Lebanon to disaster and chaos began when the Lebanese corrupt and weak leadership were pushed and pulled into the morass of Middle Eastern politics. When I was there from 1967 to 1970 it was an oasis of tranquility and sophistication drawing tourists from all over the world including Arabs seeking relief from the continuing carnage in their own lands. The students of the American University in Beirut (AUB) who were in class with me were from all over the Middle East and the U.S. It had a faculty far more open -minded than what you find on American campuses today… despite periodic Palestinian strikes to close down the school.
For instance, one textbook (From Golden River to Golden Road) we used was written by the famous Ethographist Raphael Patai. Now, the writer is seen among elitist Arabs and Islamists as one of the most hated writers on Arab culture, not because he was wrong or denigrated Arabs but basically because he was Jewish. They particularly hate his book (The Arab Mind), the best book ever written on Arab culture in English.
If you can pick a specific date when the Lebanese dream ended, it would be when Abdul Nasser (1968) bullied the weak Lebanese leaders into reaching an agreement with Yasir Arafat to use Lebanon as a launching pad for attacks in Israel. The Egyptian Ambassador, whose name I cannot remember – was known as the pro consul of Lebanon. The Lebanese government always adhered to his demands. It was typical of the Lebanese society that the Egyptian Ambassador was carrying on a not so discrete affair withe wife of the Lebanese Army chief of staff
Nasser, hell bent to erase the igminious 1967 defeat at the hands of the Israelis saw the Palestinians living ( poorly) in Lebanon as a valuable resource to avenge the Egyptian humiliation in the 1967 war. He backed Arafat’s demands on the Lebanese government and the Lebanese, who always think they can depend on their subtle, sophisticated skills to avoid the inevitable, gave way at every demand.
According to the agreement, the Palestinians were allowed to use the “Arafat Trail” along the tops of Lebanese mountains to attack Israel. In return it was supposed to keep the armed Palestinians off the streets. But of course, they did not, and soon the streets of Beirut were swarmed by swaggering armed Palestinian thugs/freedom fighters in Tiger suits. The Lebanese, as always, acquiesced. Most ironically, prior to the agreement, in 1968, the Lebanese Army had bested the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in a series of clashes in the mountains.But the usual malevolent Arab leadership with the assistance of a Western Press, which viewed the Maronite struggle to maintain independence from the creeping malignancy of Arab nationalism and “Arab Socialism” as their efforts to maintain Christian supremacy. A good book with an impartial viewpoint is A.J. Abraham’s,The Lebanese War.
As we know, Lebanon descended into a 15 years bloody brutal war ( 1975-1980) that belied the Lebanese reputation for a kindler, gentler people. a v last array of nations and different terrorist militia groups became involved and some changed sides as the a war continued. One needed a scorecard to keep up with the multitude of militia groups, mostly formed on tribal and sectarian lines.The surrounding nations all became involved. Syria entered Lebanon in …….. and remained until………. At first they went against the Palestinian organizations that imperiled Assad’s objective to control Lebanon and after subduing the Palestinians, they turned against the Maronite Christians. To illustrate the bewildering aspect off this war one m needed to read the history of the Lebanese general Michel Aoun. At first he was the hero of the Maronite Christians, leading the remaining elements of the Lebanese Army against the Muslim Palestinians ( most of the army had disintegrated into sectarian militias). Later he split with the main Maronite militia, the Lebanese Forces, and his artillery shelled civilian Christian areas of Beirut indiscriminately. Later as the government split into two entities, East Beirut under General Aoun control and West Beirut under Sunni Muslim control, the Syrian army intervened to eject Aoun from the presidential palace in Baabda. He flied to the French embassy and lived in France until he was brought back to live in the same palace this time as the tool of the same Syrians and Iranian controlled powers that ejected him before.
While the Neo-Arabists of that era tried to paint the war as an ideological struggle, it was sectarian-religious at the core. But it was not strictly Muslim versus Christian. Some Christians, including the Armenians, and Greek orthodox stayed out of it, and the Shi’a turned against the Palestinian Sunni Muslims with a deadly vengeance, in a particularly bloody phase known as the “War of the Camps.” Ultimately the Israelis were pulled in advancing all the way to Beirut, cheered on the Shi’a inhabitants of the Suth, who have suffered under Palestinian. occupation of their territory. Ultimately however, the Israelis made the same mistake we seem to make continually…they outstayed their welcome and the Amal Shi’a organization, the fore runner of Hezbollah began a long war of attrition against occupying Israeli troops. The Americans, remembering the near bloodless occupation of the beaches of Beirut in 1958 to save Lebanon from the specter of Russian imperialism seen imperiling the Middle East, re-introduced troops into Lebanon in 1982 along with the French. The marine troops became embroiled in an intra-sectarian war far too bewildering for U.S. intelligence to make sense of. It ended in the disastrous marine barracks bombing of October 1983.
One nation with imperial pretentious did profit however….the Iranians who took over the support of the Shi’a militias trained and equipped the Hezbollah into a first class terrorist-hybrid military force with clever and subtle Iranian political support.
The majority of the population of Lebanon did not want to be part of the Arab world. Certainly not the Maronite Christians and most of the Shi’a who view “Arab unity” as a term for Sunni Arab domination. As an Iraqi scholar once famously said, “nothing divides the Arabs as much as the question of unity.”
Since then, all the Lebanese, until it was overtaken by an even more malevolent force – the Iranians, have had to genuflect, at least publicly, at the altar of the Arab unity. The Iranians were quick to take advantage of the Shi’a reawakening in Lebanon, a reawakening hastened by the “return of Islam” in effect the radical Sunni movements who view the Shi’a as infidels .The Shi’a of Lebanon were always the underclass of the country, providing the maids and laborers for the rich Christians and Sunnis. This was aggravated by the presence of Palestinian refugees fleeing the 1948 and 1968 wars who took control of the Shi’a region of Lebanon and treated the Shi’a like indentured servants. This ultimately resulted in the “War of the Camps” in which Shi’a fighters roamed through Palestinian refugee camps killing everyone in sight (April 1985).
Now with Iran’s support, the Shia of Hezbollah control Lebanon and their clerics have enriched themselves at the expense of the people. The “Israeli threat” like most everywhere in the Arab world has become the diversion by which the rulers continue to use as the bread and circuses to keep the people in somnolence.
On 4 August 2020, a monstrous explosion rocked the Beirut harbor, the origins of which, in typical Lebanese fashion we still do not know whole story. It is also typical of the mafia type cost eruption which plagues Lebanon and for which there is no antidote.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut’s harbor-side blast zone where he got a first-hand glimpse of the public fury toward the Lebanese leadership. A woman who hugged him, later begged him not to send financial aid to Hezbollah government or the political elite “because they will steal the money,” she said. Others called on France to govern Lebanon as a protectorate like it once did. The Christians, Sunni Arabs and other segments of the population, including a fairly significant number of Shi’a despise the Hezbollah and their sometime cleric and full time terrorist leader, Hassan Nasrallah, but with the support of Syria and Iran, and a large proportion of Shi’a in the ranks of the Lebanese army, it is not likely to be ousted from power.
Today, as usual, the amateurs who comprise the foreign policy-, making body of the U.S. government are trying to figure out how to convey aid to the Lebanese while denying it to the Hezbollah. My advice and the only way- based on history and experience- cut off the tentacles of the Iranian octopus.