Perspectives - December 3, 2021

Kordahi Resigns to Aid French President’s Efforts to Restore Saudi-Lebanon Ties

Lebanese Information Minister Georges Kordahi resigned on Friday. The day prior, news reports emerged that Kordahi intended to resign ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia. Kordahi confirmed that his resignation was meant to give Macron an opportunity to convince Riyadh to de-escalate tensions and re-establish diplomatic ties with Beirut, which erupted over comments made by Kordahi prior to assuming the Information Ministry in support of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The demand for Kordahi’s resignation as part of this initiative by Macron was first reported by pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar News.

It remains unclear whether Saudi Arabia will respond to this cosmetic Lebanese gesture. In its statement announcement severing its diplomatic ties with Lebanon, Riyadh cited Hezbollah’s growing influence over Beirut, and the latter’s inability or unwillingness to stem the tide of illicit drugs flooding the Kingdom from Lebanon – two matters which Kordahi’s resignation does not solve.

Over the course of this week, Lebanon has attempted to adopt a friendlier face to the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. On December 2, Kordahi tweeted his congratulations to the United Arab Emirates – Saudi Arabia’s ally in Yemen, which also severed ties with Lebanon over his comments – on its 50th National Day. The move was irregular, since Kordahi is the Information Minister and not personally responsible for Lebanon’s foreign ties. That same day, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an unusually sharply-worded condemnation of a Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia, describing the incident as a “terrorist attack” and stressed Beirut’s “permanent support for the fraternal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against all matters affecting its security, stability, and safety of its citizens.”

Hezbollah, Amal 'Won't Return to Cabinet' if Bitar Row Not Resolved

Hezbollah and Amal will continue to boycott Cabinet sessions absent a satisfactory resolution to their disapproval of Judge Tarek al-Bitar’s handling of the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut Port Explosion. The so-called “Shiite Duo” have claimed that Bitar’s investigation into the blast has been “politicized” and is meant to serve American interests. Sources from the two parties reportedly stated that the “exit from the problem is present in several ideas proposed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri” and that these solutions “do not aim to topple Bitar, despite major reservations over his performance and his failure to abide by constitutional norms.” They rather seek to “separate between the judicial investigation into the port blast and the trial of presidents and ministers, while the investigative judge would remain in his position, practicing his jurisdiction over matters that concern him,” the sources added. The sources also noted that “this proposal, which would have resolved the problem of Cabinet sessions’ interruption, had been accepted by all parties, before being suddenly halted for unknown reasons.”

The Cabinet has not convened since October 14, when the political crisis erupted over Bitar. Hezbollah and Amal Movement demanded that a decision be taken in Cabinet to remove Bitar over alleged bias, as President Michel Aoun’s camp and other parties said they reject political interference in the judicial authority.

Israel Police says Hezbollah Smuggling Weapons to Arab Israelis to Sow Civil Strife 

Hezbollah terror group is trying to smuggle weapons into Israel for use by the Arab Israeli community in future clashes, the head of the northern district police intelligence department, Chief Superintendent Yaron Ben-Yishi, told Israeli Channel 12 News. Police noticed a significant increase in efforts to smuggle weapons into Israel via the Lebanese and Jordanian borders in the months since the Israel-Gaza conflict in May, which coincided with that severe rioting between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.

According to the report, police have noticed a several-fold increase in smuggling attempts, and a marked improvement in the quality of weapons being sent, in what police have described as a “strategic threat” to Israel. Police officials say crime organizations in the Arab Israeli community are the intended recipients of these weapons, where they could remain available for terror attacks in the event of another surge in inter-communal violence.

Ben-Yishi said that 95% of the smuggling from Lebanon is directed by Hezbollah. He said that whereas in the past Hezbollah tried to push drugs into Israel to “poison our young people,” the terror group has now switched tactics to focus on weapons smuggling instead in preparation for an expected “Judgment Day.”

Lebanese Currency Drops to New Low

The Lebanese pound sank to a new low on the black market last Friday. According to websites monitoring the black market rate, the pound was trading at 25,000 to the dollar, or nearly 17 times less than its official peg value of 1,500. The new record, topping a previous low of more than 24,000 earlier this week, adds to the troubles of the newly-formed Lebanese government, which has failed to meet for more than a month amid a festering diplomatic crisis with Gulf countries. With the currency losing more than 90 percent of its value in two years on the black market, the purchasing power of Lebanese is plummeting, and the minimum monthly wage of 675,000 pounds is now worth just $27.

According to the United Nations, four in five Lebanese are now considered poor. The World Bank estimates it may take Lebanon nearly two decades to recover its pre-crisis per capita GDP.

The Lebanese Energy Ministry also raised the prices of petrol, diesel fuel and cooking gas last Friday. Fuel prices in Lebanon are adjusted regularly to reflect fluctuations in the exchange rate. Filling a vehicle's fuel tank now costs more than the minimum monthly wage.

Waste Collection Halted in Beirut, Mt. Lebanon

The CityBlu and Ramco companies have stopped waste sweeping and collection operations in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, which might lead to a new garbage crisis in the country. The suspension comes in protest at “the failure to settle the contracts” with the state-run Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR). Environment Minister Nasser Yassine meanwhile met with Prime Minister Najib Miqati and discussed with him the need for devising “a more sustainable plan for managing solid waste.” “We are working to avoid the crisis resulting from the strike of the workers of waste collection companies, seeing as there is a problem in the contracts between the firms and CDR, and we discussed means to resolve it,” Yassine said after the meeting.