By Baria Alamuddin
Two years after Beirut’s port catastrophe — which was an apt metaphor for the wider state of Lebanon —the port’s huge grain silos continue to disintegrate and toxic fires feed upon their decomposing contents, terrorizing locals and prompting fears about stinking clouds of carcinogenic dust visiting new afflictions upon a capital city that has been brutally stripped of its soul.
Beyond the 218 deaths, thousands of injuries, $15 billion in property damage and 300,000 made homeless, the number of those permanently affected by this Crime of the Century exceeds belief. Everybody lost somebody, while so many were permanently disfigured.
Hezbollah’s demand for an “impartial and fair investigation” illustrates how language has been stripped of all meaning. These criminals flaunt their lies as another means of humiliating us, taunting us that we know of their guilt but can do nothing. In recent protests, bereaved families held aloft images of Hezbollah’s leader, declaring that they know exactly who killed their loved ones.
Hezbollah and its cronies paralyzed the work of the first two investigating judges and will easily neutralize the work of anyone else appointed to uncover the truth. Any widely demanded international investigation would inevitably suffer the same fate as the Hariri tribunal — which, after years of tireless work, identified culprits, only for Hezbollah and its associates to brazenly dare the world to come and arrest them. Such travesties exceed all attempts at satire.
Hezbollah believes it enjoys impunity for its crimes. The succession of murdered national figures such as Mohamad Chatah, Samir Qasir and Luqman Slim … multibillion-dollar drugs syndicates … the killing of thousands of innocent Syrian citizens … breathtaking corruption … the list goes on.
Hezbollah’s leaders meanwhile spout warmongering rhetoric over the contested Mediterranean gas fields, believing they win either way. If Israel makes concessions, that will be thanks to threats of the “resistance”; if not, they were right all along and the Zionist enemy and its Western backers can’t be trusted, justifying future confrontations. Hezbollah warns that nobody will be allowed to extract gas and oil if its demands aren’t met. Drones have been overflying Israeli gas infrastructure, with Hezbollah threatening that gas rigs are within easy reach of its missiles.
“Islamic resistance” propaganda channels never tire of enumerating how many missiles, fighters and weapons “Hizb Al-Shaitan” possesses, but they fail to detail the extent of retaliatory damage Israel would inflict upon Lebanon, or the thousands of citizens previously killed by Israeli aggression. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman scandalously threatened to “wipe out the entire Dahiyeh area in Beirut” if Israel’s gas infrastructure were attacked. Such threats are all too believable.
Meanwhile, the tragic violence of recent days in Gaza is, of course, being exploited by Hezbollah and Iran to further exacerbate regional tensions. Hezbollah’s Naim Qassim warned that his organisation “wouldn’t stand idly by,” while other Iran-backed militias throughout the region have sought to up the pressure at Iran’s behest.
In 2006, GCC states rushed to invest billions of dollars to instantaneously rebuild Lebanon. Yet Lebanon’s leadership has spent the past few years severing Lebanon from its Arab identity and culture, and gleefully burning Lebanon’s bridges with Gulf states, despite knowing that the ayatollahs in Tehran wouldn’t lift a finger to help, beyond replenishing the armories of its puppets.
The question of who really controls Lebanon was highlighted in recent days when a Syrian ship subject to US sanctions and laden with stolen Ukrainian grain was impounded in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli. Syrian diplomats rushed to cajole, threaten and bribe the judiciary and officials to allow the ship to continue on its way to Syria to feed Hezbollah’s allies in the Assad regime. As a result, a Ukrainian vessel bringing life-saving supplies of wheat to Lebanon, which was supposed to arrive on Sunday, remains at anchor off the coast of Turkey amid threats to change its destination in protest at Lebanon allowing itself to be used as a hub for stolen Ukrainian grain. This is a perfect analogy for how Lebanese citizens have repeatedly been left to starve as a consequence of the criminal activities of Hezbollah and other leaders. In Beirut, where fights regularly break out over loaves of bread, people had been desperately counting on the arrival of these grain supplies.
National infrastructure and the very fabric of society are disintegrating before our eyes, as schools, hospitals and essential institutions fall apart, suffering chronic shortages of all essential prerequisites for basic functioning. The most competent staff have fled overseas. The World Bank accuses Lebanon’s leaders of engineering a “deliberate depression” and engaging in corrupt and illegal schemes to monopolize the nation’s resources.
Hezbollah and its allies lost the last parliamentary election, but they believe they possess the ruthlessness and political muscle to act as if they won, thinking citizens are too engrossed in daily struggles for survival to care about such matters. Yet it is precisely because citizens have reached such dire straits that they must seize the moment to ensure that demands for justice and accountability are heeded, while acting against Hassan Nasrallah and Gebran Bassil’s efforts to block government formation. With the epic tussle over who will be the next president on the horizon, there is everything to play for.
Iraq has been brought to a halt by hundreds of thousands of mostly Shiite protesters seeking to prevent Tehran imposing a government. Only a similar mass popular uprising can save Lebanon, forcing a situation in which “business as usual” becomes impossible for thieving factions, and this “deliberate depression” is brought to an abrupt halt.
Above and beyond this, Lebanon’s only salvation lies in its populace assertively clawing back their autonomy and sovereignty from Tehran.
Our greatest hope is in the Lebanese people’s inspirational bravery and stoicism in the face of unimaginable adversity. A rejuvenated and transformed Lebanon is there for the taking, if we collectively possess the courage to seize the moment to reach out and grasp it.
• 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.