Beirut has a choice to make. Even before the explosions that sent forth a massive orange mushroom cloud devastated the city, taking the lives of more than 150 people, wounding thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, Lebanon has been in dire political and economic shape.
What was once described as “the Paris of the Middle East,” Beirut has allowed itself to be the kept mistress of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, has increased its grip on the government. It now controls two major ministries, including the health ministry, which is of critical importance during the days of COVID-19. Even Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, although Sunni, was nominated by Hezbollah and feels he owes a tremendous amount to that terrorist group.
Most homes in southern Lebanon, irrespective of whether they are Muslim- or Christian-owned, have been taken over by the armed thugs of Hezbollah, where they have been storing their vast arsenal of approximately 150,000 missiles that are staring down at Israel. Even the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), to which the American taxpayer gives upwards of $221 million a year in order for it to act as leverage against Hezbollah, has a very cozy relationship with the terrorist organization. The LAF shares their uniforms and equipment with Hezbollah, including American made armored vehicles. They even pose together in photos on the LAF’s own website, flanked by flags of both the LAF and Hezbollah on each side.
Even before the tragic explosions that rocked the city on Aug. 4, the Lebanese economy has been in rapid freefall. One Lebanese pound is valued at 0.0006 of the U.S. dollar. Hyperinflation and chronic mismanagement have eroded the economy. Many in Lebanon describe the Central Bank of Lebanon as “a government-controlled Ponzi scheme” because it would simply borrow more and increase the debt to pay back old debt.
For several months now, masses of Lebanese citizens have been demonstrating in “Martyrs Square” because of the skyrocketing price of food as the government corruptly takes more and more taxes out of the wages of workers in an effort to make up their enormous economic deficit. Lebanon, before the blast, has a 152 percent debt to GDP ratio.
Lebanon was blessed with vast natural resources, yet most of their food has been imported. Diab wrote in The Washington Post back in May of political mismanagement and a lack of investment in the agricultural sector. Even before the blast, the Lebanese people would say that they would “either die of coronavirus or of hunger.”
Nations throughout the world are now rushing to Lebanon’s aid, including France, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland, Cyprus, the Netherlands, and, of course, Israel.
Despite the suffocating grip that Hezbollah has over the Lebanese government—and the fact that Lebanon is still in a state of war with Israel—President Reuven Rivlin immediately tweeted, “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer aid.” In a show of solidarity, a municipal building in Tel Aviv was illuminated with the colors of the Lebanese flag. Israeli hospitals in the north of Israel, such as Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat, which treated thousands of Syrians throughout their civil war, and Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, implored Lebanon to let them treat their patients. Doctors from Sheba Medical Center have offered to fly to Cyprus where some of the victims are being transferred. And the Israeli foreign ministry posted a heartwarming video on Twitter, showing scores and scores of ordinary Israeli citizens expressing their genuine compassion and pain for what the Lebanese people are going through.
Back in 2005, after the assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafic Harari, there was a rare moment of hope in Lebanon’s tragic history called the Cedar Revolution. That was when secular Muslims and Christians felt free to proudly march through the streets of Beirut. The results of the U.N. probe investigating Harari’s assassination were supposed to have been revealed last week, but because of this disaster are going to be put off.
We already know what they’ll be. All fingers are pointing in the same direction—to that of the shadowy group that controls the government like a puppet master, whose corruption managed the port and didn’t close the warehouse filled with 2,500 tons of explosive sodium nitrate that had been stashed there since 2014, despite an order not to allow it to arrive in the ports or to be stored there.
It’s time for Lebanon to evict the Iranian proxy from their bedroom. The good people of Lebanon are fed up. They deserve more, and they have a neighbor directly to their south that is ready, willing and able to help them.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.