Lebanon’s survival is at stake and its oldest European ally, France, can make the difference. President Emmanuel Macron has invested his political capital and considerable efforts since the August 4 explosion in the port of Beirut, which left nearly 200 dead and thousands injured.
After the president’s second visit to the land of the Cedar, Lebanese political forces agreed to a two-week deadline to form a mission government, a prerequisite for the international rescue of which France is the spearhead.
The formation of the mission government failed because the usual nuisance actors blocked any profound modification of the traditional political balances. Indeed, Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal insist on obtaining, among other things, the key post of Minister of Finance. The compromise proposed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to appoint an independent Shiite minister was rejected. By continuing to consider Hezbollah as a legitimate interlocutor in this process, by involving its representatives in Lebanon, France has only postponed the inevitable moment when the subject should be taken up. Without addressing the issue of Hezbollah, no substantial change, the one that the Lebanese, the French president and the international community are calling for, will not be able to take place.
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The Iranian-backed terrorist organization has held sway over Lebanese society for decades. Contrary to what French diplomats have been able to assert, the organization is not a legitimate political actor. Over the past twenty years, Hezbollah has used violence and intimidation to consolidate its political power. For example, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon recently convicted a high-ranking Hezbollah agent for his involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.
Hezbollah continues today to employ the same terrorist intimidation methods to push back any change in the political system that could affect its central position in the country.
Lebanese civil society revolts and refuses to give in to the blackmail of terror. Significantly, more and more Lebanese voices openly condemn Hezbollah, even going so far as to hang an effigy of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah during demonstrations during the summer.
Hezbollah is not only the worst enemy of Lebanese democracy, it constitutes a major security threat. (No) -State within state and with around 120,000 missiles, Hezbollah has become the best-equipped terrorist group in the world, better equipped than the Lebanese army itself.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently called again for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon so that there are no more weapons or authority in Lebanon other than those of the state.” Lebanese ”. On its own initiative and on behalf of the Iranian regime, Hezbollah made regular incursions into Israeli territory and intervened from the start of the war in Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, accused of crimes against humanity.
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Lebanon’s rebirth cannot take place if its government is stripped of the legitimate use of force. France and more broadly Europe and the international community must demand the immediate disarmament of Hezbollah.
This terrorist organization is not only a threat to the Middle East. For many years, its activists and supporters have raised funds, stockpiled weapons and engaged in money laundering, counterfeiting and drug trafficking activities. Deposits of ammonium nitrate have been discovered in southern Germany and on the outskirts of London. On September 17, Ambassador Nathan Sales, the US State Department’s Counterterrorism Coordinator, revealed at an online conference hosted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) that large caches of nitrate of ammonium had passed through Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. These malicious activities are said to be still ongoing.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Hezbollah carried out several terrorist attacks in Paris and London. The attack on Burgas airport in Bulgaria in 2012 and the arrest of a Hezbollah agent in Cyprus who was monitoring sites for a possible terrorist attack led the European Union to declare the branch “military” of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. But it is clear that this European intellectual construction, that of a two-headed Hezbollah, had little effect in reducing the organization’s nuisance power.
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The facts are stubborn: there is only one Hezbollah. Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, more recently, Lithuania have recognized this reality. Without facing it as well, without clearly placing Hezbollah in front of its responsibilities in the current failure to end the crisis, without demanding its disarmament, France’s efforts will be in vain.
Quoting Italian Marxist writer Antonio Gramsci, President Macron said during his visit to Lebanon on September 1: “The new is struggling to emerge, and the old is persevering. We have to find a way through, that’s what I’m trying to do. “
It is indeed crucial to open another path. The road will be long and complicated and will require a concerted effort by the international community, France in the lead. Paris will host the international conference for Lebanon on October 15. If France does not want to be guilty of the emergence of a “new old” Lebanon, it is essential to tackle the central issue of Hezbollah.
(*) Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is director general of the European office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Paris and Anne-Sophie Sebban-Bécache is director of the AJC in Paris.