Last week, a deadly clash between Christian villagers and a heavily armed group of Hezbollah, whose truck was overturned laden with ammunition in the village of Kahaleh, near Beirut caused the death of a Christian villager and a Hezbollah fighter. It was the deadliest confrontation between the Iranian-proxy Hezbollah and Lebanese, particularly Christians, who oppose it. It was the most serious skirmish between Christians and Hezbollah since the clashes two years ago, around the time of the Beirut Port explosion. It has further rocked the stability of Lebanon already beset by deep political and economic crisis. It prompted the Maronite Christian Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, to declare in a sermon on Sunday for all parties “to unite under the banner of the state, especially regarding the use of weapons.” Al-Rai pointed out that “It is not possible to live on one land with more than one state, more than one legitimate army, more than one authority, and more than one sovereignty.” He was clearly referring to Hezbollah’s arsenal.
In August 2021, Druze villagers in southern Lebanon also tangled with Hezbollah fighters, when they stopped a truck carrying a rocket launcher aiming to attack Israel. The villagers accused the Hezbollah fighters of endangering civilian lives in their provocations against Israel. The people of southern Lebanon and Beirut remember that Hezbollah’s actions in 2006 against Israel brought about massive Israeli retaliation.
Hezbollah’s arsenal of sophisticated weapons it received from the Islamic Republic of Iran can easily overpower the legitimate Lebanese army. The Christian militias as well as those of the Sunni Muslims and Druze have all voluntarily disarmed under the Taif Agreement. Boasting (falsely) that its arms enabled it to remove the Israelis from Lebanon (PM Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000) the Shiite-Muslim Hezbollah was the only one to keep its arms.
Hezbollah, the terrorist militia and political party, holding the Lebanese state hostage is finally being taken to task on a variety of issues including the massive explosion in Beirut that killed over 215 people, wounded thousands, and caused damage in the billions, about $15 billion to be exact. It also scared the entire city’s residents who aren’t likely to forget the devastating explosion that rocked the city of Beirut and the region on August 4, 2020. Yet, three years after the tragic event, the known culprits – Hezbollah operatives, have not been brought to justice. Three years since that fateful day, the families of the victims, the Lebanese people, and the world are yet to know the full details of the blast. Perhaps even more injurious is that the judicial investigation into the tragedy has stalled. The ruling elites protected by Hezbollah refuse to allow a full disclosure of the findings, nor let the investigators get to the bottom of the conspiracy.
A large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut exploded, leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. A cargo of 2,750 tons of the substance, equivalent to 1.1 kilotons of TNT had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures for the previous six years after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus. The explosion began as a fire in the warehouse, leading to the explosion.
The same perpetrators who are responsible for the Beirut blast also used a powerful one-ton explosive device to murder Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon. The Lebanese judicial system knows very well who the guilty happen to be. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was clear in indicting the Hezbollah brass for the assassination of Hariri. Mustafa Badreddine, a military leader of Hezbollah and a cousin and brother-in-law of the arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyah, was the plotter who carried out the killing, as well as the murders of pro-Sovereignty Lebanese.
It is the state of the Lebanese economy that will ultimately be the ruin of Hezbollah. A recent study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy reveals that Lebanon is facing an enduring economic crisis, and Hezbollah is exploiting the situation. The collapse of the banking sector made Hezbollah adopt its funding methods to the “cash economy.” Previously, Hezbollah relied on Iranian financing, controlled the underground economy, and gained financial advantages from infiltrating state institutions. But, with the Lebanese government defaulting on its debt and with the Central Bank of Lebanon reserves being depleted, Hezbollah turned to new funding channels within the cash economy. These included remittances from the Lebanese diaspora sent through transfer companies and money changers affiliated with Hezbollah. Hezbollah, moreover, utilizes a charitable organization functioning as a bank outside regulatory oversight. On March 9th, 2020, Lebanon failed to repay $1.2 billion Eurobond, the first sovereign default in the country’s history. The currency crisis in Lebanon had done what years of bloodletting couldn’t do.
The Washington Institute study blames the Central Bank of Lebanon and its governor for enabling these mechanisms. The banking sector, although not intentionally conspiring with Hezbollah, aligns its interests with the cash economy due to unease about bank restructuring and sharing losses. Overall, the study suggests that systemic reforms are unlikely as key players in Lebanon have little motivation to implement them, including Hezbollah and a banking sector that is complicit in fighting against banking restructuring.
It has become clear that everywhere the Ayatollahs of Iran gain control, they bring along conflict and poverty, suffering, and bloodshed, whether in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, or Yemen. In Lebanon, however, a pushback against Hezbollah is growing. While ordinary Lebanese citizens must pay for goods in the depleted local currency, which lost 90% of its value, Hezbollah’s operatives are paid in US dollars. This is just one among many resentments ordinary Lebanese harbor against Hezbollah. Once considered almost sacred as a fighting force against Israel, it is now seen by many as part of the corrupt political clique responsible for Lebanon’s epic meltdown.
Lebanese journalist Baria Alamuddin wrote, “Hezbollah and former President Michel Aoun have destroyed everything that made Lebanon great.” Hezbollah has dragged Lebanon into a bloody civil war, multiple foreign wars, a crippling economic crisis, a deeply divided society, a corrupt and undemocratic political system that ignores the needs of the people, countless bloody terror attacks against minorities, and assassinations of Lebanese political leaders (PM Rafik Hariri), and the Beirut blast that killed hundreds of Lebanese. It is hardly a legacy the Lebanese people seek to preserve.
According to Joseph Hakim, President of the International Christian Union and a Lebanese native, “Hezbollah accountability should have been enacted when they did the Syrian Accountability Act.” It is incumbent upon the US and its European allies to sanction Lebanon as long as Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons run the show in the Land of the Cedars. The dysfunctional and corrupt government in Beirut must no longer enjoy legitimacy and Western support.”