Desperate Lebanese need army to secure international aid
Day after day, week after week, the stories coming out of Lebanon become grimmer and more desperate. Today, the stories and discussions are not about the political situation or potential breakthroughs — that ship has sailed. The political stalemate has lasted for too long and people no longer think about a solution; they only think of their daily lives and fulfilling their basic needs. This situation is not a surprise. The deliberate financial depression will continue pushing toward a deterioration of the situation and, as mismanagement continues, it is fulfilling the worst-case scenarios that were warned of long ago.
There is, nevertheless, a big difference between discussing the political and security scenarios of medical or food shortages and hearing the names of people suffering due to this situation. Today, this is the case: We hear the names of people going for days without the medicine they need to stay alive; we hear the names of surgeons and doctors doing their best to help but missing even essential anesthesia; and we hear the names of children going to sleep hungry. We hear, day in and day out, the despair being called louder and louder.
There is a terrible sense of hopelessness. No one knows what to do. No one knows where the situation will end up. Most have the underlying feeling that what will come next will be even worse, including insecurity and violence — probably not civil war violence for now, but threats to everyone’s lives and their families’ security. Forget about political change or revolt; there is no hope for food and medicine, so how can there be any building for a new, better future?
The biggest problem Lebanon faces is that it has called for help many times, received help, and then spat in the face of the donors, lied to them, and threatened them in lieu of a thank you. This is the sad truth and reality. Today, most foreign donors are and will remain reluctant to help with organizing medical or food supplies because of the handling on the ground of these shipments. Indeed, most of the shipments risk being controlled one way or another by Hezbollah, which in turn threatens the donors’ security by sending back drugs and exporting terrorism. This is what they send in exchange for food and medical donations. By now, everyone knows that Hezbollah controls the ports and airports and hence will control the distribution. These supplies can easily become leverage — potentially political leverage — especially in these dire times.
Lebanese politicians who are willingly or unwillingly serving Hezbollah have accelerated the country’s isolation. They are collectively responsible for adding insult to injury for the region’s potential donors. And the people are now left to face this dire situation alone. Europeans and the rest of the international community are good at organizing through military logistics, but will usually rely on the generosity of Gulf countries. Today, however, the Gulf countries have little or no incentive or possibility to help because of Hezbollah’s potential use and control of the shipments they might send.
In a sad twist and a story of complete decrepitude, Lebanon went from being the Switzerland of the Middle East to being Venezuela, wrapped in Gaza, inside Somalia. How do you help such a country? Forget about escaping the artificially created political deadlock or building a new Lebanon for now — how do you help the people being held hostage?
Despite this regional and political situation, it is time to arrange help for Lebanon. It is time to explore the organization of a humanitarian corridor focused on the shipment of medical supplies and equipment, food necessities and health-related products. The Gulf countries are willing to help the people, but they are used to being insulted in return. When it comes to helping people, they will — unlike Lebanese politicians — put their egos aside. But at this stage, this is not the problem.
And so the key equation that needs to be solved is how do you make sure humanitarian shipments are not used by any political or religious group for political leverage? Or worse, smuggled and sold to Syria, for example (like all the subsidized goods are today)? This is what needs to be urgently sorted out. To make sure that babies do not cry of hunger, that people get the medicine and treatment they need, and that the suffering is controlled and reduced, Lebanon needs to show that humanitarian help will be fairly and properly distributed without preference or leverage.
The LAF is the only potential guarantor that can ensure humanitarian help is allocated correctly.
Khaled Abou Zahr
Consequently, I will ask a simple question: Where are the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)? Why isn’t the army stepping up? The Lebanese people, since the beginning of their renewed revolt in 2019, have used the slogan “One country, one army” as a symbol of support and of the role they expect their army to play. It is also a symbol of the first step that is required for the country to start recovering.
Today, things are different; the people need the army to start sending the proper messages to its international counterparts that it is ready to organize and be a solid guarantor at the receiving end of a humanitarian corridor. It is now the army’s responsibility to make sure it has the capacity to distribute shipments fairly and properly. Commander Joseph Aoun has successfully lobbied the US for subsidies for LAF members and their families without the conditions of facing Hezbollah or reforming. The Lebanese deserve the same.
With international assistance, the LAF is the only potential guarantor that can ensure humanitarian help is allocated correctly. The international community is waiting for this, while the Lebanese people need it. The key role the LAF now needs to play is to make sure it keeps Hezbollah, the various political groups, and criminal gangs at bay in case a humanitarian corridor is set up. It needs to make sure potential shipments go to the right people and places.
I am confident that, if the LAF declared that it had the capacity to ensure a neutral and fair distribution system for any humanitarian shipments, then the Lebanese diaspora would join the international community in showing its generosity. With successful businessmen in activities ranging from shipping to the health sector, there could be a strong and appropriate response. This is the ultimate test for the LAF; if it fails, our worst fears will become reality.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.