Lebanon Crisis: US and Europe Should Come Up With More Nuanced Engagement And A Robust Response, Say Experts

Foreign Affairs

By Arie Egozi

Tel Aviv: The US and some European countries are trying to coordinate some action that will prevent the fall of Lebanon into the hands of Iran’s main proxy in the region – the Hezbollah terror organization. The effort gained traction after Israel presented the outcome of such a situation, according to the Israeli sources who refused to be identified.

At this point neither the US, nor one of its European allies consider “boots on ground” type of action but rather a joint power projection act that would signal Iran that the complete takeover of Lebanon is not acceptable by the west.

Middle Eastern sources say that intention of the US is to convince at least one European government, likely France to send warships into Lebanese waters, to try and prevent the country from falling into Iran’s hands. Israeli experts say that such action will be “too late, too little” and that at this point nothing can stop the takeover of Lebanon by Iran. Lebanon is in total chaos and the sources say that Iran is waiting for “a few more days” to order its main proxy in Lebanon, the Hezbollah to take over the control of the ruined country.

Russell A. Berman a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution wrote in The Hill website that Lebanon is facing a dangerous combination of accelerating crises — economic, political and societal. The researcher says that although Lebanon is a small country, “important issues for US national interest and geo-strategy are at stake. Yet, currently, American Middle East foreign policy is devoted to the single obsession of the Iran negotiations, leaving little oxygen for other matters. This is a mistake. The Biden administration should develop a more nuanced engagement with the region and especially a robust response to Lebanon’s pending collapse.”

According to Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a leading Israeli experts on Middle Eastern issues, the US – France initiative is pointless as it uses that historic “Gunboat policy” that is something that is not working today. “If Washington and Paris think that such an act will convince the Hezbollah and Iran to go back on their plans to takeover Lebanon, they are wrong.”  The Lebanese army is weak and in spite of help from the US is not capable of acting against the chaos and Iran’s intentions.

According to Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a researcher in the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, for months, Lebanon has been enduring a dire economic situation to such an extent that Lebanon’s middle class has been wiped out. The country finds itself in extreme poverty, with the “former middle class” making up part of the 50% of Lebanese who have fallen into poverty in the last year. Today, Lebanon experiences shortages in every field of life: empty gasoline stations, barely a few hours of electricity a day, no baby formula, cancellation of night landings at the Beirut International airport for lack of electricity on the runways, and no medical supplies, forcing hospitals to refuse admissions and to close clinics. Physicians are leaving the country by the hundreds, as are all those who can afford to flee from Lebanon.

With formidable inflation accompanied by an almost 100 percent depreciation of the Lebanese lira in relation to the US dollar, the army has been raising funds by providing $ 150 ten-minute rides in army helicopters for tourists in order to survive. Campaigns to raise money from donor countries brought little assistance except 150 tons of fish from Senegal, which was distributed solely to the presidential guard. “Lebanon has reached the abyss, and at present there is no safety net to prevent the fall.”

The researcher says that the only political body able to float above this dangerous wave is Hezbollah because of the financial backing it receives from Iran. “Its institutions have transformed into a parallel state that provides food, medicine, hospitals, education, and gasoline for its followers.”

With undisputable powers in the Lebanese political system, Hezbollah, since August 2020, has managed to block all the attempts made by Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri to form a government. Hezbollah is preparing for a takeover of the political system when it is opportune.

Israeli defence sources say that the taking over of Lebanon by the terror organization will create a situation that cannot be accepted by the US and Israel. “Israel does not want to start a war with the Hezbollah equipped with 140,000 Iranian made rockets and therefore expects the US and some European governments to act in order to prevent such a takeover.”

In recent years, Israel has performed hundreds of air attacks on Syrian targets, to foil the Iranian effort to equip the Hezbollah in Lebanon with accurate missiles. The targets were convoys and storage places for the shipments from Iran through Syria to Lebanon.

-The writer is an International Roving Correspondent of the publication.