The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, on his recent visit to Beirut could see for himself evidence of the economic abyss into which the country has fallen.
Dozens of businesses in Lebanon are closing down permanently every day, thousands of people are losing their jobs or suffering massive pay cuts and the suicides of citizens submerged by debt have shocked the nation.
Lebanon is burdened by sovereign debt equivalent to 170 percent of its GDP [the second highest in the world].
Most traffic lights have stopped working in Beirut, electricity is becoming scarce and a growing number of Lebanese are looking for ways to leave the country….
Le Drian said that the rest of Lebanon’s international partners were on the same page, as was the protest movement that emerged last year to demand reform and an end to corruption.
Le Drian did not mention Hezbollah by name. But he knows that Hezbollah is the most powerful political force in Lebanon, and it is Hezbollah that has, through violence, broken up Lebanese popular protests and preserved in place the current corrupt and ineffectual government. Hezbollah’s power has to be broken if there is to be the kind of reform in Lebanon that will satisfy the IMF, so that it will make the $10 billion loan Lebanon has asked for, thus making it possible for Lebanon to receive the roughly $11 billion in aid previously promised by donor countries.
Hezbollah has brought nothing but misery to Lebanon. It dragged the country into a war with Israel in 2006, a war that the great majority of Lebanese did not want, and that resulted in tremendous damage to infrastructure because Hezbollah had hidden weapons throughout civilian areas in south Lebanon, which the Israelis out of necessity bombarded. It threatens today, still, to drag Lebanon into another war with Israel, a war likely to be even more damaging to Lebanon than the 2006. War because the Israelis must now find and destroy the huge arsenal of missiles, some 140,000 of them, that Hezbollah has acquired since the last war. Those missiles have been hidden not just in southern Lebanon but also in southern Beirut. How many tens of billions of dollars in damage to Lebanon would such a war cause? And how many foreign investors have shied away from Lebanon because of their factoring into their calculations the likelihood of such a war?
Le Drian might have spoken, during his visit to Lebanon, about “the forces inside Lebanon that constantly threaten to drag the country into war and that are directed from abroad by those of similar fanatical faith.” That would strike a chord in the hearts of many Lebanese, who now see Hezbollah not as a “center of national resistance” — as it likes to call itself — but as the source of much of their woe.
Even if he does not make such a statement while in Lebanon, on his return to Paris, he could express himself, more or less in the same words, from the Quai d’Orsay: “I stressed to my Lebanese counterparts that they must master the forces inside the country that constantly threaten to drag the country into war, and that continue to prevent reform by defending an unpopular government, while suppressing violently those who protest against it. France is prepared to offer aid – weapons and training – to the Lebanese army, so that it can again assume its rightful role as the only legitimate armed group in the country. And as I said in Beirut – these were my exact words – ‘We will maintain our support to the Lebanese army, the cornerstone of this state, and to the security forces which, together, play a crucial role in ensuring the security and stability of the country. It is essential that the Lebanese state asserts its authority and control over all of its territory.’
“And we also wish to announce today in Paris — and clearly related to our deep concern for the fate of Lebanon – France today institutes a new policy toward Hezbollah. Following the series of decisions made by our European allies – most recently by Germany — to ban both the political and military ‘wings’ of Hezbollah, as parts of a single terror group — the government of France has decided to do the same. From now on, Hezbollah will be banned from the territory of France. Membership in the organization, support to the organization of any kind, including fundraising, propaganda, and recruitment, will now be a criminal offense in France.”
Nasrallah will be in a rage, ranting about “these ridiculous French who tell us what to do and don’t realize the age of colonialism is over.” But many other Lebanese will listen and be heartened. That’s just what they want Hezbollah to feel: a cold unwelcome wind blowing from the Quai d’Orsay all the way to southern Beirut, where bunkered bezonians of the Party of Allah hunker down, waiting for Hassan Nasrallah to give them their marching orders, just as soon as he’s received his own directions from the ayatollahs in Iran. Such a statement from Jean-Yves Le Drian might help stiffen the spines of the anti-Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, who have so far been cowed by Nasrallah.
France looms large in Lebanese history, and in the Lebanese political and cultural imagination. France has done a lot for Lebanon. It has helped to create a francophone intellectual elite, open to the wider world of Western art, literature, science, philosophy, and political thought. If Le Drian’s words – the words we’ve imagined for him, and allow ourselves to believe he will speak — help to empower those Lebanese most hostile to Hezbollah, and French military aid to the Lebanese army and security forces helps the state to curb the power of Hezbollah, those will have been the most important services yet that the French Republic has performed for Lebanon.