Once more, Lebanon’s imposed hostage status to Iran comes to light with the latest normalizations between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. On many indicators—including civil society vibrancy and religious liberty, to name only two—Lebanon remains the freest society by far in the Arab world. However, having a free and open national debate about Lebanon’s best interests is taboo, and the ailing country has no choice but to bear silently its Iranian shackles.
For the vast majority of Lebanese, Lebanon must come first before all other considerations, including Palestine—most Lebanese reject the notion that their country should be the spearhead in any Iranian-Israeli conflict, using Palestine as its excuse. But the government forcefully marginalizes their voices. When listing countries in the two broad opposing coalitions—the so-called rejectionist front led in different ways by Iran and Turkey, versus a Western-Arab bloc—most observers either automatically assume Lebanon is in the former camp, or they ignore it altogether. But this warped picture does not reflect the now-captive will of the majority of Lebanese.
In 1979 when the Camp David Accords ushered in peace between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon was in the thick of its own bloody civil strife. Three years later, in 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, a series of missteps by both the Lebanese and Israelis prevented peace between the two countries. Before Camp David, many euphemistically said that Lebanon would be the easiest and first country to make peace with Israel. Later, after the country descended into armed factional conflict, Lebanon was relegated to the very end of the line of potential Arab peace partners with the Jewish state. After 1982, the rise of Hezbollah as Iran’s armed Lebanese proxy firmly ensconced Lebanon as the absolute last, if ever, candidate for such a peace.
But the world has changed much since the mid-seventies: far greater economic integration has become the norm globally; hydrocarbons are on a steady decline as the leading source of energy for industrialized states, giving way gradually to renewables; and the high-tech revolution has altered profoundly the avenues toward swift prosperity for aspiring states with financial means and access to scientific know-how. In a parallel universe, Lebanon—with its unique assets of an ideal location smack in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean, a bustling deep-water port like that of Beirut, a historically proven mercantile and cultural posture as a bridge between East and West, and a leading education sector ensuring a strong reservoir of youthful human capital—would be ideally suited to play a pivotal role in any new budding peaceful regional order. In the universe of present reality, however, this seems destined to remain an unfulfilled aspiration for now.
Worse still, the combined militia-mafia cartel (Hezbollah and the corrupt political class it protects) that currently ensnares Lebanon has methodically stripped the country of its prime advantages, leaving it a discarded and sorry shadow of its former self, robbed of its strengths. Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in neighboring Syria has hampered Lebanon’s economic and trade dealings with the Arab interior. In fact, Iran has increasingly erected walls between Lebanon and the family of Arab states to which the country has naturally belonged. The cartel has also weakened Lebanon’s Western ties, once deep and dynamic. The hitherto energetic port of Beirut, Lebanon’s mercantile gateway between Europe and the Arab Middle East, now lies in ruins following the August 4 massive explosion, for which this class of thieves and their enablers are principally responsible. Schools and universities have buckled while unemployment has soared due to the economic and financial collapse last fall. Corruption of the looters at the top caused this ruin, which accelerated the emigration of youth and further eroded Lebanon’s precious reserves of human capital. In short, the cartel has systematically diminished or destroyed all the ingredients that could have poised Lebanon to play a modest yet central part in any new emerging regional order of peace and prosperity. All this occurred against the will of the majority of the Lebanese people.
On a matter as vital as charting Lebanon’s best future direction, the people must be allowed to express their views freely. A candid national public debate on where Lebanon’s true interests lie concerning regional developments is a basic right that the Lebanese deserve to exercise without coercion. If, after such a free and frank debate, the consensus is that Lebanon would be better served through adhering to a policy of disassociation from regional tensions by remaining aloof from unfolding normalizations, then so be it. On the other hand, if the public, liberated from inflicted pressures, decides the time is ripe for Lebanon to restore its Arab ties so as to find its place in the ongoing new regional economic and political architecture, then this viewpoint must be respected.
On one level, the definition of treason is doing everything possible to undermine the interests of one’s country and the will of its majority as a service to an outside alien agenda. If destroying Beirut’s port along with educational and employment prospects for the talented youth so that they must emigrate, while simultaneously severing Lebanon’s Arab and Western connections—if all of these are not tantamount to high treason, the term loses its meaning.