By Christopher Harper
For nearly a decade, I lived and traveled into Beirut—a time that molded me into a journalist.
In Beirut, you worked hard and played hard. Almost every day, journalists went into a dangerous city, where many thousands of people died, and almost every night, they retired to the bar at the Commodore Hotel.
My wife Elizabeth and I arrived in Beirut in 1979, where we lived for two years. After that, we spent many days back in Lebanon during a variety of news stories, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. We returned in 2011 during the Arab uprising to see Beirut had risen from the ashes, with restaurants and businesses booming from an economic resurgence.
Although we both loved the city and made friends with whom we remained close for many years, recent events did not surprise us.
Lebanon has existed for decades without a government. When it had a good leader like Rafic Harari, a businessman and prime minister, he ended up dead in 2005 as the victim of assassination. Ironically, last week’s explosion occurred just as a United Nations tribunal was set to determine the guilt or innocence of those suspected of killing Harari. See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-tribunal-hariri-idUSKCN2512IC
For the past year, Lebanese have been protesting the current government for its corruption and inability to deal with day-to-day issues, such as garbage collection. As an example, my former colleague can only received $500 a month from his ABC News and government pensions because the government has placed severe restrictions on the country’s banking system.
Although the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, is a Christian—as delineated in the country’s constitution–he is beholden to Hezbollah, the Shia militia, for his power. He remains in power despite the resignation of the prime minister and the cabinet.
Hezbollah has links to Iran and Hamas and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Hezbollah was behind the 1983 attack against the U.S. Marines that left more than 200 dead and the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985 that left a U.S. sailor dead. The group has a vast militia, which rivals the country’s army, and has engaged in a variety of battles with Israel.
More important for Lebanon, Hezbollah helped create a corrupt and negligent political system that created the lack of enforcement at the port and allowed the storage of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate.
Moreover, a new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies asserts that Hezbollah siphons off billions of dollars from around the world. Money is laundered through Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to function as a kind of parallel state, one with its financial and social services. See https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/08/04/crisis-in-lebanon/
When my wife and I lived in Lebanon, the country embraced the song “I’ll Will Survive” as it national anthem. The resignation of the government may be a step toward survival, but Hezbollah still has a choke hold on the country. No survival will occur until the organization no longer holds significant power in Lebanon.