Let Them Eat Misery
Pity Thy Nation. It would be hard to pick three better words to describe the anguished plight of Lebanon today. It was an apt title for a book written about the “abduction” of Lebanon by the Anglo-Irish journalist Robert Fisk, talking about the turmoil of Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s. The country, once considered a haven from the tumult of the region, was known for its snow-capped hills, picturesque shores, and beautiful people; Beirut, long before it became synonymous with the fiery hell of the apocalypse, was known as the Paris of the Middle East. Beirut was the vacation spot of Hollywood’s elite; it was the banking center for the region’s king, emirs, and princes.
Lebanon has survived a lot since the French mandate: sectarian hatred, the takeover of the country by Palestinian terrorist groups, civil war, massacres, and then the war with Israel in 1982. But Lebanon might not survive Hezbollah and the next few weeks might prove crucial to the country’s future and stability in the Middle East.
The Iranian-financed and controlled Shiite Party of God had, since its creation in 1982, rewritten the paradigm of suicidal savagery in its war against Israel and the west. Militarized by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officers and fueled by fundamentalist Shiite fanaticism, Hezbollah went on to blow up two U.S. embassies in Beirut, kidnap western—and American—hostages in the city, attacking Israeli forces with suicide bombers, and take out the barracks of U.S. Marines and French paratrooper peacekeepers in the Lebanese capital. Up until the 9/11 attacks, Hezbollah was responsible for the murders of more Americans than any other terrorist group in the world.
With Iranian money and weapons, a global industry of narcotics trafficking, and money laundering supporting it, Hezbollah’s suicidal zeal helped it become the most powerful military entity in Lebanon. That muscle soon translated into political power and Hezbollah entrenched itself inside every fabric of Lebanon’s economy and its government. Hezbollah flexed that power at every turn and often with a gun to the head of Lebanon’s hopes to rebuild itself into a functioning nation. Hezbollah assassinated former premier Rafic Hariri in 2005 and it attacked Israel in 2006 launching a destructive war that summer that resulted in countless Lebanese civilians killed and maimed in the crossfire as it set up missile launching pads inside civilian areas using men, women, and children as human shields. Nearly all the destruction and suffering inside Lebanon these past thirty years has come as a result of Hezbollah. The Shiite Party of God, its commanders, and lieutenants, have pilfered the nation’s coffers and stolen its natural resources.
The thievery, the murders, the wars, and the fanaticism have brought Lebanon to the brink of complete collapse. The Syrian Civil War created a flow of refugees into Lebanon of people with nothing but the clothing on their backs, who fled the fighting chemical weapon attacks and massacres, that Lebanon did not have the resources to shelter and feed. Inflation, corruption, and sectarian hubris, exacerbated by Hezbollah’s thuggery, made a terrible crisis so much worse. Whatever was left of the Lebanese economy, and whatever Hezbollah couldn’t steal, Covid quickly destroyed. There were food shortages, a plummeting Lebanese pound, and rationing of fuel and electricity. A massive explosion in the port of Beirut, linked to Hezbollah and the storing of explosive chemicals, killed over 200 people and destroyed much of the city; a kind estimate lists the price tag of the damage at $15 billion. The blast left 300,000 people homeless.
Instead of trying to do whatever it could to prevent Lebanon’s collapse, Hezbollah is looking to precipitate the country’s downfall in the most insidious way imaginable: using food as a weapon. As government subsidies for necessities have evaporated forcing many groceries to shut their doors, Hezbollah announced the creation of its food price club—called al-Sajjad (named for Ali Al-Sajjad, a Shiite figure legendary for his generosity) to feed those who were hungry. Being a Shiite or having a monthly income of less than $125 is all a Lebanese citizen needs to qualify for an Al-Sajjad membership card. Where the shelves in the few remaining food stores are empty, al-Sajjad shops are stocked to the rafters with precious food items from Syria, Iraq, and Iran—some purchased legitimately, others smuggled and stolen across frontier crossing points that Hezbollah controls, and sold at prices that are so low that they are used to tempt a Lebanese population that could never have ever imagined that their country could face starvation of any kind with the cruelest of Sophie’s Choices: sacrifice their freedom and their national will in exchange for feeding their families.
The plentiful al-Sajjad shops boasting vegetables, meats, cooking oil, milk, and other basic food items are all subsidized by Iran. Tehran also subsidizes banks, lending authorities, and other day-to-day necessities needed for the Lebanese people to sustain a normal existence. But Iran and Hezbollah don’t want the Lebanese to get too comfortable. The spigot of food and money could be denied to anyone who doesn’t tow the party line; those who complain or resist could find themselves without food and life. The Lebanese have known war and sectarian bloodshed, but hunger is something new to them.
Iran and Hezbollah have brought Lebanon to the brink of becoming a failed state—a mess like Somalia and Libya—and they are determined to keep the chaos under their control to serve their political and military ambitions. Of course, Lebanon becoming a failed state poses a dire strategic threat to Israel. Failed states are toxic cauldrons of nonstate militias, terrorist violence, and downright explosive-laden anarchy. Lebanon could easily become a “hot,” or active front, in Iran’s war against Israel. And, if that happens, and thousands of Lebanese are killed as a result of Iran’s strategic desires in the region, will the Lebanese people be able to resist given the fact that the very powers who destroyed their futures are the ones who still fill their bellies?
After Covid and after the Abraham Accords, Israel and the other countries of the region were hoping to use a return to normal as a launching pad for a better future. Sadly, such a prognosis does not seem likely for Lebanon.
Marie-Antoinette, France’s queen during the revolution, infamously said that the starving peasants could eat cake. It appears that Iran and Hezbollah are happy enough to let the people of Lebanon eat misery.