War on Lebanon?


THE Lebanese taxi driver was both happy and upset. “You Saudis and Gulf visitors are always good news for us,” he started. “For years now we have fewer and fewer of you. Instead, we receive Iraqis, Afghanis and Iranians. Most of them come via Beirut on their way to Syria. Some are pilgrims visiting Shiite shrines, others are fighters joining Hezbollah and other (Iranian) militias. Few are diplomats or merchants. But in all cases, they don’t spend much here. They live in camps or cheep accommodations. Most bring along their food and water,” he complained.

“You, on the other hand, come as tourists, investors, importers and residents. You bring your families, stay longer, usually in good hotels and apartments, hire limousines and taxis, dine in top restaurants and cafes, shop in malls and fancy shops. In short, you bring life and prosperity to all,” he praised.

I explained our reasons to stay away from a favorite destination. Security, I told him, tops all. He already knew. “I appreciate all your concerns,” he replied. Life here is not very safe even for us! I am an old man and have seen better times. So had my children. Some of them lived until recently in your countries. Their remittances and gifts helped us. Now, they had to return home because of their affiliation with Hezbollah. My daughter is graduating this year and I don’t know how to get her into university.

“All of this because of politics. Lebanon’s became a playground for all kinds of players. It has always been like that, but we survived. Today, I don’t know if we could, because for the first time since independence, we lost our democracy. We lost our sanity. We lost our ability to play the odds and maintain balance. Today, we just gave in to one party at the expense of others. We let ourselves be ruled by one country, and lost our traditional allies and benefactors. Iran is changing all the rules and turning us into an Iranian colony.”

As he saw my surprise, he took a deep breath, then went on to answer my unsaid questions, “Yes, I am a Shiite and an affiliate of the Party (Hezbollah). Still, I am Arab and Lebanese first. I come from an original Arab tribe and my father fought for independence. For us, Iran is a foreign nation. Our roots, identity, and everything else are Arabic. Lebanon is our home, we like it the way it is. I am religious but not sectarian. I have Sunni and Christian friends and faithfully serve Arab and foreign customers. I particularly find our Gulf brethren an extended family. Why would we lose everyone for one? What benefit do we get when we involve ourselves in other people’s affairs? Who are we to pick fights with America and Israel; Turkey and Gulf states? We are put small nation living on hospitality, trade and immigration. We provide friendly services to others, all others. Once we take sides and get into fights we lose everything,” my intellectual taxi driver concluded.

I remember this conversation as I follow reports about a possible war between Israel and Iran, with Lebanon as the chosen battleground! As usual, Iran won’t put its own soldiers at risk. It prefers to use its Arab servants to do its dirty business and fight in its name. Lebanese, Iraqi and Afghani militias are already joining forces in southern Lebanon. Since 2006, the Party has been stocking over 200,000 missiles and other sophisticated weapons in its underground storages and secret hideouts. Like in Yemen, they choose their storage facilities and military bases in heavily populated areas.

“So what do you think? Is war imminent?,” ask worried Lebanese friends. I don’t know, but the signs are troubling. Iran has no regard for Arab lives or interests. In fact, they may calculate that a war with Israel might be a good rallying cry for the Arab nation. They’d hope to embarrass the Saudi camp by making us choose between Israel and Hezbollah. With Iran pretending to support the Arab cause, Arabs might forget their crimes against humanity in Syria and Iraq. Other than some replaceable caches of arms, what they get to lose? As usual the Gulf states would be left to rebuild Lebanon after a devastating war. This is a similar case to the conflict they created in Yemen. However, in their desperation to avoid direct war with enemies, they may actually bring it on — at least to their forces in Syria.

So what do we do? I believe we are already doing what we could with recent Saudi intensive communication with all concerned parties in Lebanon (accept Iran’s agents) and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit to Riyadh. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s visit to Egypt, Britain and the United States would probably work on the crisis’ international dimension. The rest... is in Allah’s hands!

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi