By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
An excellent new report by Chatham House’s Lina Khatib not only illustrates why Hezbollah poses an existential threat to Lebanon, but is also a timely reminder of how rapidly Hezbollah mutated from being an anti-state critic of corruption to embodying that corruption, and becoming the supreme defender of this rotten-to-the-core governing system.
Hezbollah’s usurpation of the governing system has transformed Lebanon into a bankrupt pariah state, with a basket-case economy dependent on the export of narcotics, weapons and terrorism.
From the moment Hezbollah controlled ministerial posts, these institutions were put into the service of its own partisan goals and those of its Iranian paymaster. Hezbollah’s hold over the Agriculture Ministry was exploited to divert agricultural investment exclusively to Hezbollah strongholds, while controlling the import of chemicals such as ammonium nitrate for use as explosives. Paperwork for the export of agricultural products was falsified to cover up the smuggling of contraband goods.
Hezbollah controls the regional trade in explosives, and also controls Beirut’s port. No wonder it is moving heaven and earth to block the investigation into why hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port destroyed half of Lebanon’s capital city, with colossal loss of life.
With the Transport Ministry in the hands of key ally Yusuf Finyanus from 2016 to 2020, Hezbollah’s control of the airport, ports and borders became absolute. One of the reasons Lebanon doesn’t have a functioning government now is that Hezbollah insists on appointing the next Finance Minister, which would allow for the cover-up of the full spectrum of criminality.
Lina Khatib’s report stresses the fact that while such corrupt practices are nothing new among Lebanon’s mafioso factions, Hezbollah and Iran embarked on these corrupt activities in such a systematic manner as to bankrupt and shatter the state. Hezbollah uses its vast intelligence infrastructure to spy on rivals and target its enemies. An immense $300 million a month is lost to the state due to Hezbollah smuggling subsidized diesel into Syria. While half of Lebanon can’t afford to feed itself, Hezbollah makes a killing flogging subsidized wheat across the border.
Hezbollah plunders the state and then scatters a few crumbs from its immense profits to portray itself as the God-given benefactor of its client communities, when in reality it is nothing but an immense predatory parasite draining Lebanon’s lifeblood.
Hezbollah is the principal benefactor from the fact that, out of $3 billion customs duties collected from Beirut’s port, the Lebanese state purse receives a paltry $800 million. Hezbollah is a leading player in the multibillion-dollar Captagon trade, while reaping hundreds of millions through complicity in the Latin American narcotics trade. Hezbollah’s Transportation Unit 112 oversees the movement of weapons, missiles, money and other contraband goods, along with smuggling and money laundering operations in Africa and the Americas.
With Lebanese GDP nearly halving from $55 billion in 2018 to about $30 billion in 2021, Hezbollah’s massive levels of crime and systematic corruption, along with its stipends from Tehran (about $700 million a year), leave it with a comparable financial turnover to that of the state itself. Hezbollah is profiteering from Lebanon’s demise. With dozens of businesses going bankrupt every day, Hezbollah is establishing its own parallel network of banks, trading outlets and institutions, which undercut rivals due to exemptions from border fees and taxes.
Lebanon is becoming a proud member of an exclusive club of states where the national infrastructure has been repurposed for smuggling and organized crime. With their monetary systems in freefall, Lebanon and Syria are becoming outright narco-economies. Numerous financial institutions already face international sanctions after Nasrallah’s “Party of the Devil” dragged them into its orbit.
In this dystopian, narco-state future, if you want to prosper and feed your family your career options will be drugs and explosives manufacture and transport, money laundering, human trafficking, terrorism or paramilitarism.
Lebanon’s disintegration poses challenges for Hezbollah, but it will emerge from this implosion ten times stronger than any rival. Boycotting Lebanon has failed. Those banking on Lebanon’s demise as a means of purging the region of Hezbollah have it all wrong: Hezbollah possesses all the arms, the power, the money and the manpower. It will be the last man standing after this Lebanese apocalypse.
Yet let’s not forget that in the 2009 and 2018 elections, Hezbollah candidates won a miserable 13 seats. Hezbollah wields influence only through exploiting corrupt allies. This is a precarious house of cards that would collapse if the entire nation succeeded in mobilizing against it.
Hezbollah’s supposed raison d’être was defending the motherland against Israel, yet such a Hezbollah-dominated terror-exporting state would only make war inevitable. With Israel conducting daily overflights and airstrikes again Iran-aligned targets, Hezbollah appears powerless to act.
The reality is that when the West and the Arab world step back from weaker states like Lebanon, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, the vultures come swooping in. Vulture states like Iran and Russia, and non-state actors like Hezbollah, Daesh and the Taliban are highly adept at filling the void when the international community fails to act in support of good governance and stability.
The world has scarcely grasped the consequences of abandoning this cluster of Arab states — Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq — to the vultures and terrorists. The legitimate economies of these nations have imploded, but there are fortunes to be made from exporting drugs, arms, terrorism and anarchy. The entire planet will suffer the consequences, and just as in Latin America, when narco-states become established such criminalized systems quickly gain a veneer of self-sustaining permanence that is almost impossible to eradicate.
This is not alarmism; it is already happening, and will shortly become 100 times worse if citizens and the international community fail to prevent the wholesale emergence of these Tehran-sponsored spawning grounds for chaos and disorder.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.