Lebanon may not survive without alliance with the Gulf states: opinion

Throughout its history, Lebanon has known countless crises, wars and occupations, foreign interventions, and two bloody civil wars. Yet for the past two years it has been in the throes of an economic crisis unprecedented, even in its own grim history.

Numbers say everything. Since the economic crisis broke out in October 2019, GDP has plummeted 40%, while the Lebanese pound has devalued no less than 90%. The massive loans obtained by the state, combined with the corruption of the regime, have raised the national debt to 155% of GNP and the debt / output ratio to the highest in the world. Mistrust of the government by local citizens and foreign investors has led to an investment flight and a severe shortage of foreign exchange. The coronavirus pandemic combined with the August 2020 explosion that swept through the port of Beirut has further exacerbated the situation.

In practical terms, more than two-thirds of the citizens of the country that was once nicknamed the “Switzerland of the Middle East” have sunk below the poverty line. Electricity and gasoline are now a luxury and even only occasionally available. And in 15% of households, children have had to stop going to school in recent months to help their families earn a living.

As if this weren’t enough, the government of technocrats formed in September after a political crisis that lasted more than a year is also being challenged by growing internal tensions between Hezbollah and its opponents, which recently deteriorated in shootings in the streets of Beirut. in broad daylight. .

Lebanon suffered another blow in recent days when Saudi Arabia announced the expulsion of the Lebanese ambassador from Riyadh and called for consultations from its Beirut ambassador. Worse, the Saudis also announced a total ban on Lebanon’s imports. Shortly thereafter, its close allies Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates withdrew their ambassadors from the Lebanese capital.

A POSTER by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi is seen on a billboard in Sanaa, Yemen, on October 31. He says, “Yes, George, the Yemen war is useless.” (credit: KHALED ABDULLAH / FILE PHOTO / REUTERS)

These tough measures followed a statement by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi (in August) criticizing the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen and accusing the Saudis of targeting Houthi rebels who were only acting in “self-defense” . This pronouncement enraged the palace in Riyadh. The ongoing military engagement in Yemen may not be headlining the news in Israel, but it is at the top of the Saudi agenda, a war in defense of the homeland against aggression by the representatives of its biggest rival, Iran, which has been attacking targets. within the country. Kingdom. The fact that the harsh Saudi reaction came two months after the Lebanese minister’s statements (before joining the government) points to the fact that he was looking for an excuse to exacerbate his fight against Hezbollah.

Beirut is now trying to limit the damage and seeking a quick end to the crisis. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as a whole are of utmost importance to Lebanon. Thus, for example, the volume of Lebanese exports to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates only exceeded $ 1 billion in 2019. In other words, if Lebanon wants to rebuild its shattered economy, it simply cannot afford to alienate the Gulf states.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is well aware of this and hastened to form a special emergency cabinet tasked with proposing a speedy resolution to the crisis. His office even announced that he had hinted to Kordahi that he would do well to resign, saying he should “make the right decision” to avoid a further deepening of the Lebanese crisis.

Despite tough Saudi steps, Lebanon is too important for the Saudis to pull out. The kingdom aspires to position itself as a regional power and a leader of the Sunni world in particular, and the Muslim world, in general, and cannot afford to lose its grip on the Land of Cedars. What’s more, a Saudi withdrawal from Lebanon would make it even more susceptible than it already is to an Iranian takeover.

Hezbollah is also well aware that Lebanon is unlikely to survive, not to mention weathering the severe economic recession, without the presence of the Gulf states. As of now, Hezbollah still expresses its support for the minister who generated the storm and declares that his resignation is out of the question, but Nasrallah is unlikely to insist on avoiding resignation if he helps the Saudis climb down the tree they climbed.

The United States is trying to mediate between the parties. The US administration is interested in the survival of the fragile Lebanese government as a representative of the US embassy in Beirut was present at the meeting of the emergency cabinet formed by the prime minister, according to Lebanese media.

In light of the shared interests of the parties, the current crisis will presumably be resolved sooner or later. However, a comprehensive solution to Lebanon’s deep ills does not seem in sight. The fragile sectarian balance of power is not conducive to tackling the country’s fundamental problems. At best, it allows facing temporary crises, and even so with great difficulty and external help, making the next crisis only a matter of time.

Professor Elie Podeh teaches in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University and is a board member of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policy. Eitan Ishai is a doctoral candidate at the Hebrew University, specializing in Lebanon.


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