Clifford D. May
Paris is known as the City of Lights, and Beirut used to be known as the Paris of the Middle East – the Arab world’s center of culture, art, and learning, with bars and cafes à la mode. So, there is irony as well as tragedy in the likelihood that Beirut will soon be plunged into darkness.
Denizens of Beirut already are accustomed to power cuts for no less than three hours a day. Beyond the capital, outages last longer. The reason: Lebanon lacks sufficient foreign exchange to pay for the fuel imports necessary for electricity generation.
The fading of the light is just one symptom of Lebanon’s decline. Corruption is endemic and apparently incurable. The debt is estimated at over $100 billion. As Lebanon’s currency shrinks (it’s lost close to 90 percent of its value against the dollar) prices for foods, most of which must be imported, rise, impoverishing what had been the middle classes.
Yet diplomats, journalists, and think tankers are reluctant to state plainly who bears primary blame: Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The former is Lebanon’s dominant political party (the name means “Party of Allah”), an armed militia (with firepower superior to that of the Lebanese Armed Forces), a Shia terrorist organization (responsible for murdering Americans, Israelis, and others), and a partner with Latin American drug cartels. The latter is Hezbollah’s master or, one might say, the imperialist power in Lebanon.
France, a former imperialist power in Lebanon, is the nation most concerned about Lebanon’s degradation. Back in August, just days after a mysterious explosion in Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people, destroyed a corner of the city, and left thousands homeless, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon where he offered Hezbollah members of parliament a partnership. “I want to work with you to change Lebanon!” he earnestly offered.
“Everyone knows you have an Iranian agenda,” he reportedly added. “We know your history very well.” He then challenged Hezbollah: “Prove that you are Lebanese!”
Within a few weeks, his frustration had become evident. “Hezbollah can’t be at the same time an army at war with Israel, an unrestrained militia against civilians in Syria and a respectable party in Lebanon!” he exclaimed. “Is it really a political party or does it proceed just in a logic dictated by Iran, and its terrorist forces?”
Over the months since, Hezbollah’s actions have provided the answer. For example, in February, Lokman Slim, a prominent Shia critic of Hezbollah, was murdered. The hit was professional: three shots in the head, one in the chest, and one in the back. Those who argue that because Lebanon manages to hold elections, it must be a relatively free country were taught a lesson.
Mr. Macron has continued to search for ways to save Lebanon. But loans of billions of dollars combined with promises of better behavior by Lebanon’s political elites – not all of Hezbollah but all subservient to Hezbollah – are at best Band-Aids on a sucking wound. The French president apparently considers disempowering Hezbollah as too difficult, and offending Tehran as too dangerous.
Meanwhile, both are demonstrating striking self-confidence. Last week, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, voiced his approval for Tehran’s diplomatic efforts. “We support any Iranian dialogue with international, regional or Arab powers,” Nasrallah said in an hour-long speech. “We consider it as helpful to calming tension in the region.”
He has in mind the Saudis who, responding to the Biden administration’s downgrading of bilateral relations, have begun exploring the possibility of appeasing Iran’s rulers.
In Vienna, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s envoys are telling President Biden’s envoys which concessions the U.S. must make to be permitted to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal President Obama struck (without congressional approval) in 2015, and from which President Trump withdrew three years later.
Under the JCPOA, Tehran promises to acquire a nuclear weapons capability slowly rather than quickly. In exchange, it is to receive funds that will be used to develop missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, sponsor terrorists, and further its hegemonic ambitions in the region.
Iran’s rulers have stipulated that the talks not be conducted directly but only through intermediaries – a demonstration of their disdain for Americans. Mr. Biden’s negotiators, eager as puppies to rejoin this misleadingly named deal – the JCPOA was never “comprehensive” nor is it a “plan of action” –pretend they are not being humiliated.
Most media obediently play along while also ignoring the bigger story: France, the U.S., and other members of the “international community” are in the process of normalizing regimes and organizations committed to jihadism and terrorism.
Another example: In February, the Biden administration lifted the terrorist designations on the Yemeni Houthis, formally Ansar Allah, which also is supported by Tehran. The Houthis have continued, without pause, to attack civilians for political gain – the dictionary definition of terrorism.
In response, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “The international community must ask itself why the Houthis are seeking a military solution to the conflict … despite the tremendous humanitarian consequences.” Yes, that is such a puzzlement!
Fifteen years ago, Henry Kissinger observed: “Iran has to take a decision whether it wants to be a nation or a cause.” By now it should be clear that Iran’s rulers – though not those they rule – want to be a cause. More to the point, with the help of Hezbollah, Ansar Allah, and other terrorist organizations that cause is making significant progress.
The U.S. and its allies have so far proved unable or unwilling even to recognize this reality, much less respond to it effectively. Expect the darkness now falling on Lebanon and other Middle Eastern lands to spread.
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times. Follow him on Twitter @CliffordDMay. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.