Now is the time to save Lebanon from Hezbollah

Usually we hear about Lebanon when tensions escalate on the border. Lately, we neglect to observe that it is going bankrupt and on the fast track to being declared a failed state.

LEBANESE POLICE write people a ticket for using the beach. (photo credit: REUTERS)
LEBANESE POLICE write people a ticket for using the beach.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is quickly sending the world into the biggest economic crisis in decades. Here in Israel, we’re witnessing how almost all the macro-economic strides the country has made in the last decade are quickly eroding. It’s hard to look beyond the next few hours.
With all the threats that this crisis delivers, it also brings a severe security risk to Israel and the Middle East from the North; Hezbollah is trying to take advantage of the current financial distress of Lebanon
Usually we hear about Lebanon when tensions escalate on the border. In its prime, Lebanon was a European oasis in the heart of the Middle East. Lately, we neglect to observe that it is going bankrupt and on the fast track to being declared a failed state. 
In recent years, Lebanon has become the third country in the world that is the most in debt in terms of debt to GDP ratio. Overly dependent on its banks, Lebanon is now defaulting on its debt. Most recently, on March 9, it failed to pay a $1.2 billion payment to Eurobond. At this rate, official bankruptcy seems all but inevitable.
How did it happen? Years of corruption by all the parties in control, years of people in power taking care of their own interests rather than the country – and let’s not forget – years of a slow but methodical hostile takeover by Hezbollah servicing a different regime, in Teheran.
Looking at the Lebanese government, Hezbollah now controls the largest political bloc in the coalition. On top of that, Hezbollah’s militia forces are more powerful than the entire Lebanese Armed Forces. By virtue of these factors alone, together with its extremist ideology, Hezbollah is holding the country hostage at the expense of the Lebanese people. Just recently, it sent thousands of Lebanese constituents to Syria to die while fighting a war that was not theirs to fight. 
LEBANON'S COLLAPSE did not happen overnight. However, the country refused to turn to the international community, specifically the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help and chose to borrow more and more money from banks and investment firms. Why? The answer is simple; they knew that any IMF bailout would require Lebanon to begin overhauling its political and economic systems, and that’s something that Hezbollah couldn’t accept. 
The coronavirus and Lebanon’s recent financial problems just made things worse – especially for Hezbollah – the party in charge of the Health Ministry amid this unprecedented health crisis. Now, it seems like Lebanon is with its back to the wall, and might turn to the international community and global financial institutions. This time, Hezbollah will not be able to stop it.
In these dire times, Hezbollah knows that it can lose everything if it lets Lebanon collapse. As the people at the helm of the health system, they will not be able to shirk responsibility and the public backlash against them could be devastating. That ministry was supposed to be a cash cow for the party with the fourth-largest budget of all ministries – over $380m. – but now it became a liability. 
Moreover, Hezbollah's international support is eroding. The rapid spreading of coronavirus in Iran, combined with its own failing economy, requires the regime in Tehran to focus on its internal problems. Circumstances demand that they must put efforts towards maintaining its own power, and restricts its ability to give Hezbollah the level of support it needs in Lebanon at this time.
The global community is in distress and uncertainty and every dollar spent should be cautiously calculated. This is the time for the global community to act and it is vital that it takes stock of the causes underlying Lebanon’s default. This means going beyond examining the symptoms. It means it should guarantee that no international bailout would be provided unless the country agrees to reform the economic behavior that brought it to its current state. 
Any international bailout plan sponsored by the IMF or other international institutes must help release Lebanon from Hezbollah’s stranglehold. The first step would be to condition any bailout plan on an establishment of a sectarian-agnostic technocrat government that will remove and prohibit Hezbollah (or any recognized terror organization) from any official or unofficial position in it.
ANY BAILOUT plan also needs to address Hezbollah's presence and control over the political system. As things stand, part of every dollar spent by the international community on Lebanon, will reach the pocket of Hezbollah (and its military and political goals) and not reach the people of Lebanon. Any plan must include political restrictions that will ensure funding will be spent towards Lebanon’s financial growth and overcoming the health crisis, and not be rerouted towards bolstering Hezbollah’s military might and goals..
In addition, the bailout should include measures to force upon Lebanon to adhere to international resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolution 1701 from 2006, which called for disarming Hezbollah. At present, Lebanon is ignoring these resolutions and it has allowed Hezbollah to amass over 130,000 missiles and rockets – an arsenal larger than that which most NATO member states possess – with a stated intention of annihilating NATO allies.
Once a plan like this is in play, along with the necessary monetary requirements, global stakeholders should start doing what they haven’t done so far – keep a close eye on Beirut to ensure compliance and take strong measures against Lebanon if it falls short in doing so. 
For several years, Israeli officials said that they are taking calculated risks on other fronts because the northern one poses the greatest danger. Just six months ago, in September 2019, Energy Minister and Security Cabinet member Yuval Steinitz warned that “The Iranians are on our borders.”
If Lebanon collapses or receives an unconditional international bailout while Hezbollah is still in power, despite all of their problems, the Ayatollahs could take over and that statement might become reality. Therefore, Israel must not take its eye off the ball and must urge the international community to take the necessary measures to save Lebanon and rehabilitate it for the long haul in a monitored manner. 
All these circumstances – the global economic effect of the Coronavirus, Hezbollah's uncertain political condition and public responsibility, Iran’s focus on licking its wounds and Lebanon with its back to the wall – create an unprecedented window of opportunity to make a real difference. This window will not stay open for long. If the world doesn’t act now, Israel, the Middle East and beyond will long suffer the consequences.  
The writer is the chairman of the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, former director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Israeli ambassador to the UN.