Hiding in Plain View – No Solutions in Lebanon

Friday, July 16, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

My mind is wandering a bit as I begin to write this blog. I wanted to focus on the respect deficit observable among elites in Lebanon. The notion of respect for others, let alone self-respect, does not appear to be in their calculus. I don’t need to recite the economic, humanitarian, societal, and psychological consequences of the country’s failure. It’s obvious in how the families of the victims of the August 4 explosion are being treated as well as the continued refusal of leaders to step aside and repair the damage to the economy and the banking system.

There are many culprits. From officials to economic elites, from militia members to the mafia and thugs that abuse human and civil rights with impunity, knowing that they are beyond the law, such as it is in Lebanon. The latest drama is playing out in many scenarios but I want to focus on three: the port explosion investigation, the resignation of Saad Hariri as PM designate, and the alleged Hezbollah missile storage facilities near a school in the South.

In a nod to the victims’ families who have been demonstrating for several weeks against immunity for political figures called by the investigation, President Aoun declared August 4 a national day of mourning as if that would be sufficient to mollify the families and their friends. The official decree marking the anniversary is expected to clear Parliament shortly. Sadly, there have been scuffles between the demonstrators seeking to have the immunity lifted and security forces. General Abbas Ibrahim, the Director of General Security, has even volunteered to testify but is being restrained by the government.

Even Hariri, as he exited the shaky stage of his not-to-happen comeback, noted in an interview that an international tribunal was needed to pursue the Beirut Port investigation as the government was not to be forthcoming. His remarks support a claim by a former senior security official who told ATFL that the judge overseeing the investigation had the documents that would clearly point to those political forces, local and regional, that make the explosions inevitable. Even he was sanguine about Judge Bitar’s mission to bring the information to light and the culprits named and shamed.

What will happen now with the formation of a government seems even more challenging. None of the parties will step back from their maximalist demands for retaining control of certain ministries and the ability to veto proposed legislation and actions. The next step is for President Aoun to consult Parliament and the Council of Ministers (actually Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Parliament who wields the most power of the three main leaders) and nominate an acceptable Sunni candidate. There is always a list of wannabe Prime Ministers despite the cesspool that is Lebanese politics. Just ask Caretaker Prime Minister Diab if he would do it again. I can already anticipate his reply. But there are those in the Sunni community who are anti-Saad Hariri and likely acceptable to Aoun and Berri, particularly given the pressure being exerted by the international community to install a reformist government to move ahead with changes need to secure badly needed funding.

While all of these internal gyrations are going on, Israel felt it needed to remind the Lebanese how volatile the security situation has become due to what it claims are Hezbollah missile storage facilities in civilian areas, in this case, near a school in Abba in the Nabatieh district. This is the beginning of a campaign by the IDF to both publically identify likely targets if there is a conflict, and challenge the LAF and UNIFIL to take steps to verify the claims as called for in the UN mandate, which is due for renewal in August. Coincidence? Not likely. It is an opportunity for the new Israeli government to reassert its basic position of defending Israel by extracting severe repercussions against perceived threats. And put pressure on the UN Security Council.

Finally, I want to close with the statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding Hariri’s resignation.

Resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri
Today’s announcement that Saad Hariri is resigning as Prime Minister-designate is yet another disappointing development for the Lebanese people.

It is critical that a government committed and able to implement priority reforms be formed now. The government must also start preparing for the 2022 parliamentary elections, which should be held on-time and conducted in a free and fair manner.

Lebanon’s political class has squandered the last nine months. The Lebanese economy is in free-fall, and the current government is not providing basic services in a reliable fashion. Leaders in Beirut must urgently put aside partisan differences and form a government that serves the Lebanese people. That is what the people of Lebanon desperately need.

No further comment needed.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.