The worst-case scenario in Lebanon: Civil War

Beirut, Lebanon, By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

In Lebanon, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has warned that the ongoing anti-government protests might lead to “chaos, collapse and civil war ”. What is the scenario for a civil war? Is it a realistic possibility?

The Lebanese people think the current upheaval was triggered by monthly taxes imposed on the messaging application WhatsApp. In fact, this was only the most recent of a series of measures, starting with US sanctions on Lebanese banks and on wealthy individuals accused of having links with Hezbollah. Rumours – later confirmed by the US administration – spread in Lebanon that more sanctions were in the pipeline and expected to hit more banks and more Lebanese allies among Christian groups in Lebanese society. Many rich and middle-class Lebanese panicked at the consequences of the US targeting the country with even more sanctions, destabilising the banking system and destroying confidence, thus creating the risk of capital outflows. Many Lebanese withdrew their cash assets from banks and transferred their wealth outside the country. 

Notwithstanding repeated denials, Lebanese president Michel Aoun exerted great pressure on the central bank to keep the value of the Lebanese Lira at 1500 to the dollar rather than allowing it to skyrocket to an expected rate of 3000 – 5000 for one dollar. That would have consequences on the president’s reputation but above all on the local currency in a country that uses the dollar as the basis for every purchase, even in a café or a supermarket. Moreover, the Lebanese debt of $85 billion in a country that imports $16 billion and exports $2 billion and is infested with corrupt politicians was in itself a burden on the Lebanese Lira impossible to ignore. The deficit and debt approach 155% of the gross domestic product.

There are about 6 million Lebanese but between 8 to 9 million Lebanese live abroad. Many families rely on financial support from their relatives. But since the US’s strict and continuous persecution of Hezbollah and its supporters, no Lebanese dares to send money to Lebanon for fear of being accused of “supporting terrorism”. The US measures haven’t affected Hezbollah as an organisation that receives its finance on a regular basis from Iran. It has, however, hit Lebanese society, including those who support Hezbollah, and also commercial trade, which has slowed down significantly.

The real estate business has almost stopped with a significant devaluation of Lebanese assets in this sector. Small firms closed their doors and people struggle to make ends meet. Electricity is lacking on a regular basis, paving the way for the generator business but creating a burden on Lebanese families, who have to pay their bills twice every month. This is the same for drinkable water all over the country. The infrastructure is weak, trash collection and recycling are sporadic, traffic is dense, the sea is contaminated and the price of goods increases with little governmental control.

The accumulation of dysfunctionality of almost everything in Lebanon is pushing the Lebanese to unite and rebel against the unhealthy political system, which is sectarian. This critical mass is making Lebanese society very vulnerable to a worst-case scenario.

Many middle-eastern countries have stopped their usual monetary support to Lebanon- for a number of reasons. One important factor is the accusation of a “Hezbollah-controlled government”. In fact, because of the recent wars in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq and Yemen), Iran’s allies made key contributions to the failure of US-Gulf regime-changing projects in these countries, giving the upper hand to powerful non-state actors supporting similar objectives as Iran.

The US and Saudi Arabia are fed-up with the “Axis of the Resistance”: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq. In no circumstances will they allow the expansion of these groups and their game-changing precision weapons and military power not far from Israel. Every single opportunity weaken this Axis has been used. Only one thing is left: a civil war.

The Secretary general of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned that the ongoing anti-government protests might lead to “chaos, collapse and civil war ”. What are the realistic prospects of civil war? 

The Lebanese Army receives light weapons – Lebanon is not allowed to receive defensive and offensive weapons that might impede continuous Israeli violations of its territory – from US and UK donors. They force the Army to stockpile the weapons received far from Hezbollah’s area of control; the Lebanese Army complies with the donors’ wishes, amassing weapons mainly in the Christian area of Lebanon.

The civil-war scenario is just a possibility, but cannot be disregarded. Nothing is factual, but there are parties who believe that the US and Saudi Arabia just waiting for an opportunity to bring it about.

There is no doubt, however, that the direction Lebanon is taking will only make Hezbollah stronger than ever. Iran is developing more sophisticated weapons suitable for guerrilla use that are shared with allies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Therefore, the only possibility to distract Hezbollah and detract from the support the organisation is enjoying would be to engage it in a civil war.

Saudi Arabia is no longer injecting money into Lebanon because the prime minister, Saad Hariri, refuses to take a firm position against Hezbollah. Hariri cannot go along with the US-Saudi wishes because Hezbollah and his allies have the upper hand and the majority in parliament. But the US and Saudi Arabia can inject a lot of money into Lebanon, as in Syria, in an attempt to reach its objective- to turn a large part of the population against Hezbollah- even if the outcome is not guaranteed. 

If this happens, the best candidate to take up arms may be Samir Geagea, the former Israeli ally who is today financed by the US-Saudi team standing against Hezbollah. In this case, and if the course of events leads to another sectarian war between that in Syria (between Hezbollah and the pro-US “Lebanese Forces”) Hezbollah’s allies will not hesitate to intervene. Hezbollah will be the protector of the Christians who are not part of the Geagea forces. The Christians play an essential balancing role not only in Lebanon but also in the entire Middle East.

Iran brought to Syria allies from Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Lebanon. Those same allies that are still in Syria can easily move to Lebanon in support of Hezbollah.

Many questions will be solicited in this case: what will happen to the Lebanese Army? If Hezbollah and its allies take control of the army, will the world boycott and surround Lebanon as they did with Hamas in Gaza?

The Lebanese Army, under its current leadership, cannot intervene directly in favour of one side or another. However, its officers will be divided and personal initiatives will be taken, as  during the 1975-1989 civil war when the army was divided. The US will exert its influence to support those in the army who will fight against Hezbollah, a kind of the “Free Syrian Army” in Syria.

And if Hezbollah and its Christian allies win, the answer is simple: any war will definitely bring Russia, a superpower stationed just across the Lebanese border in Syria, to put an end to the conflict, and certainly not the US. Moscow has succeeded in Syria and can succeed in spoiling US regime change plans in Lebanon. It can develop Lebanon’s oil and gas fields and stop Israel from violating its sovereignty, thus bringing more stability to the region and preventing any exacerbation of the Palestinian conflict. 

On the economic front, Iran is building electric power and medical facilities and developing the pharmaceutical industry in Syria. It is eager to do the same in Lebanon. Iran has said it is ready to supply weapons to the Lebanese Army. Russia has renewed its offer to do the same- to no avail due to US pressures on Lebanon. Iran, Russia and China can also develop roads, communication facilities, reconstruction of the country and bring the country away from its medieval infrastructure. The Silk Road and a train service between all Lebanese cities and the outside world are on the table from China, ready to go when the US embargo on the Lebanese-Chinese relationship is lifted.

Hezbollah will remain stronger than ever, Lebanon’s only guarantee against Israeli attacks. Russia has its own policy and may want to keep some distance from the Hezbollah-Israel struggle. Hezbollah can launch missiles against Israel without fear of domestic opposition.

It is wrong to say a civil war in Lebanon would be to Hezbollah’s disadvantage- on the contrary! Triggering a civil war is not to Hezbollah’s advantage because the Lebanese have had enough of war. However, if and when such a conflict is imposed, Hezbollah will not lose. The question remains: Is the US aware that with every mistake it makes it is pushing Lebanon into the arms of Hezbollah?

Proofread by:   C.G.B and Maurice Brasher

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