In Lebanon, Hezbollah Smolders

Jewish Light Editorial

Lebanon, Israel’s neighbor to the north, has been linked to the Jewish State since the days of King Solomon, who used the Cedars of Lebanon in the construction of the First Temple. Today, the growing power of Hezbollah threatens to overshadow that historic connection.

Since the creation of modern Israel in 1948, Lebanon has often been described as the second Arab nation that will make peace with Israel. It has unique division of powers described as “multiconfessional.”  The president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim.

When France granted Lebanon its independence in 1943, it was hoped that it would be the only Arab state to maintain a Christian majority.  But over the years, the Muslim population surpassed that of the Christians, and the Muslim percentage in the Parliament increased.

Lebanon is hardly a match for the military power of Israel or of Syria, which virtually occupied Lebanon for decades. Because its government has been relatively moderate, Israeli officials held out the hope that Lebanon could make peace with the Jewish State. Indeed, after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, its government did sign a peace treaty with Israel only to have it abrogated under pressure from Syria.

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Today, Hezbollah, the Shia militia that is listed by our State Department as a terrorist organization, has evolved into a major player in Lebanon. It controls who will hold serious key positions in government while retaining the facade of the old system.

Since Israel fought a bloody war with Hezbollah in 2006 to an inconclusive decision, Hebzollah has grown into a formidable and battle-hardened force. It fought for years to keep Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in power and allied itself with the anti-Israell theocracy in Iran.

Hezbollah has also formed an alliance with Hamas, the faction that controls the government of the Gaza Strip. Iran has supplied Hezbollah and Hamas with tens of thousands of rockets that could rain down on Israel in the event of war.

A poignant piece in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal by journalist Hanin Ghaddar emphasizes how much influence Hezbollah has in today’s Lebanon. Ghaddar, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for critical comments she made about the Lebanese army at a conference in Washington in 2014.

In her piece, “Hezbollah has destroyed the Lebanon I Once Knew,” she writes: “During a panel discussion, I noted that the Lebanese military targets Sunni groups while showing preference for Shiite groups like Hezbollah. Because former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was at the conference, Hezbollah media claimed it was treason for me, a Lebanese Shiite, to attend.”

She laments such hardening of discourse in what used to be a more tolerant society.

“Lebanon was once a unique, free country in a region brimming with dictatorships and autocrats,” Ghaddar says. “Today, its state institutions are eradicating those freedoms. Refugees are suffering, the economy is collapsing and Lebanese are flocking to embassies in Beirut to emigrate. Garbage fills the streets, and pollution has reached dangerous levels. All this happens in the name of Palestine.”

Because Hezbollah has gained de facto control of the once moderate Lebanon, the “country is now becoming one large prison,” she writes. 

Ghaddar’s comments echo those expressed late last year by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He said flatly: “The Lebanese army has turned into an integral part of Hezbollah’s command structure. The Lebanese army has lost its independence and become an inseparable part of the Hezbollah apparatus.”

Several sources report that Hezbollah could be “ready to blow.” We hope that Washington will awaken to the ticking time bomb in Lebanon and make every effort to move it away from extremism and back toward rationality and moderation.