Commentary

The world is working to help Lebanon’s people; its politicians are holding it hostage

Riot police beat protesters during a protest outside the house of the caretaker interior minister Mohamed Fahmi in Beirut, July 13, 2021. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

The international community, led by the United States and France, is running around expending diplomatic goodwill in a bid to muster up support for Lebanon.

Lebanese officials, including the president and caretaker prime minister, allege that the unprecedented crises facing the country are a result of the outside world exerting pressure on Beirut.

But lawmakers and influential figures abroad continue to work to help Lebanon’s people, not its government.

And, contrary to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s repeated claims that there is some sort of conspiracy to destroy (what’s left of) Lebanon, recent conversations in Washington point to everything but this.

Is Hezbollah disliked and designated as a terrorist organization in the West, Gulf and many European capitals? Yes. But do the US and French capitals believe they will force the militant group to disappear? No.

However, they do want to see the Lebanese Army in sole possession of arms in Lebanon, and they don’t want to see young, Shiite Lebanese men fighting in Syria and elsewhere.

As for any conspiracy theories Nasrallah claims against the Shiite sect, a plethora of US-taxpayer funds have gone and continue to go toward development and construction projects in predominantly Shiite villages and towns.

Discussions in Western capitals on Lebanon are solely focused on the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese people. Putting cash directly into the pockets of those most in need is being studied.

The World Bank has already pledged north of $200 million to be disbursed via the World Food Program (WFP) beginning in August.

And a senior World Bank official told me that the bank is prepared to give more as long as there is complete transparency and accountability for every dollar distributed.

The official said initially, the Lebanese government stalled for months when asked to come with a plan of how they would distribute the greenback to Lebanese residents in need.

“So we said, ‘Thank you. Bye,’ and decided to work with the WFP for them to distribute the funds,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation in Lebanon freely, said.

Moreover, proposals to import gas from Egypt via the Arab Gas Pipeline and power from Jordan’s electricity grid are being discussed in foreign capitals.

Caesar Act sanctions pose a significant obstacle since the transit of both resources would have to go through Syria, which is controlled by the Assad regime and his backers in Tehran and Moscow.

According to the World Bank official, the power plants in Zahrani and Deir Ammar are both prepared to run on natural gas. “This could happen overnight and needs nothing but political will,” the official irritatedly said.

This political will is something that no international player can force upon Lebanon’s ruling elite.

And another bailout - short of a proper government capable of doing the most basic things to help its people - is not coming.

The conference being discussed for Lebanon next month is meant to drum up money, medicine and food for the people, not the government.

Another proof that it is not foreign powers destroying Lebanon is a separate conversation I had in recent days with a senior Congressional source on Capitol Hill.

“We’re looking at ways to help the Lebanese army feed their soldiers,” the source, who was not authorized to speak to the media, told me.

Other ways and ideas to help Lebanon are being discussed daily, “although officials here are sick and tired of Lebanon’s corrupt politicians.”

“We’re worried about the people,” the source added.

And in recent days, a high-ranking senator that focuses on US foreign policy went as far as asking a Middle East-based official what it would take to bring the Lebanese politicians together “so they can put aside their personal interests for once, and just save their damn people.”

The Middle East-based official told the senator that there was no shortage of money flowing into Lebanon via expats and the Lebanese diaspora.

“The politicians just need to decide to do what is being asked of them,” the official said.

This diplomatic flurry and concern come as Washington and Paris dispatched their envoys to Lebanon to an already irritated Saudi Arabia to help Lebanon.

Riyadh is being asked to support Lebanon when Beirut’s politicians turn a blind eye to narcotics shipments flooding Saudi Arabia and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah provides intelligence and technical assistance to a Yemeni militia that continues to bomb Saudi Arabia.

Even so, foreign governments, including Gulf countries, are willing to help the Lebanese people as well. If the Lebanese government publishes a list of medicines, foods or other necessities needed, these nearby countries are willing to help.

But asking for cash that would be used to build mansions and forts inside or outside of Beirut or to pay for unnecessary personal security apparatuses will no longer be acceptable.

Meanwhile, countries around the world continue to struggle with reviving their domestic economies following the coronavirus pandemic. Despite this and more pressing issues, including Russia’s and China’s growing influences, foreign capitals continue to look at ways to help Lebanon.

This goes to show that the only siege Lebanon is under right now is that from its so-called leaders and officials. Any argument to the contrary is entirely and utterly false.

Joseph Haboush is the Washington correspondent for english.alarabiya.net. He contributed this article for The Daily Star.

 

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