Lebanon should not be used as a pawn any longer
Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah has changed his stance on a possible International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid package for Lebanon, stating last week that: “Any assistance within logical conditions is possible. There is no problem with this.” This came after Iran — Hezbollah’s master — requested aid from the IMF in the form of a $5 billion emergency loan to fight the tragic situation caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It also followed an indication from the entire political and business community in Lebanon that there is an emergency need for direct funds to avoid total bankruptcy.
It was an uneasy situation for the so-called party of resistance to vehemently oppose any IMF aid, only to hear its bosses in Tehran asking for the same. Last week got even worse, as Hezbollah was also reportedly accused of allowing a military tribunal in Beirut to release Amer Fakhoury, an American citizen accused of running a southern Lebanese prison during Israel’s occupation of the region. This apparent concession by Nasrallah is said to have been made to ward off the threat of US sanctions against some of his political allies, and to show good faith ahead of any potential IMF negotiations.
This once again shows that Hezbollah is willing to shift its positions in order to preserve its interests and those of its masters in Tehran. Lebanese public opinion or state laws do not matter — they didn’t matter when they sent their fighters to Syria and they don’t matter now. Yet, today, Hezbollah’s global image, which is also part of Iran’s strategy, has been shattered and it is under pressure like never before.
When it comes to the IMF, as well as pleasing the US, Hezbollah is also counting on France to support it in the negotiations. The simple reason for this is that, since the previous government headed by Saad Hariri, President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to bridge the differences between the US and Iran concerning the nuclear deal, and Lebanon is an important part of his strategy. France has a good understanding of what Hezbollah represents for Iran and, by supporting stability in Lebanon, the French administration knows very well it is appeasing Iran and showing goodwill.
Hezbollah’s global image, which is also part of Iran’s strategy, has been shattered and it is under pressure like never before
Khaled Abou Zahr
Nasrallah wants the IMF money without “conditions that breach Lebanese sovereignty.” But, for Hezbollah, sovereignty has a different meaning — it means being allowed to retain control of all contraband; keeping control of Lebanon’s borders; keeping control of the airport and ports; continuing its oversight on illegal activities; continuing the bribing mechanisms; continuing to threaten the judiciary; controlling the country’s pharmaceuticals and health care; being allowed to trespass on private and state property; being unaccountable for its actions and those of its allies; keeping parallel communications; and using the electricity network for its own interests. And, most of all, it means keeping its military arsenal and its status of being a state above the state.
This military arsenal is not one of resistance but one of oppression — an oppression first of its own and then of the entire country. The Shiite Lebanese who dream the same dreams as all others have been isolated from the rest of the population. And, after isolating its own community, Hezbollah has isolated Lebanon from the rest of the world. The country of commerce, trade and tourism has become the enemy of all countries in the region and blacklisted by a big part of the world. Is this the stability France wants to preserve? If Macron is indeed a friend of Lebanon, then he should stand with the free people of Lebanon and the protesters, not Hezbollah. It is also time for Hariri, who has good relations with Macron, to publicly clarify this and ask the French president to stand with the protesters and the opposition.
However, the real question we should ask is until when will the Lebanese Army accept this situation? When will the army listen to the people in the streets who risk their lives and scream from their heart, “One country, one army,” and the call for true sovereignty? Until when will the army continue accepting successive humiliations and Hezbollah’s corruption of the true meaning of sovereignty? The army is the sole protector of the borders. It is the unique sovereign institution all citizens respect. It is high time for the army to move with the people, no matter the cost.
We cannot let the country be a pawn in the middle of regional negotiations any longer. We know we will all be sacrificed sooner or later. It is time to provoke change. But Lebanon needs to act fast — it will not be able to overcome the financial crisis as well as the COVID-19 pandemic without outside financial and political support. We are on the verge of a disastrous situation. We need to act fast.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.