Complex Made Simple

Lebanon hinges Its hopes on 2018- Part III of III  

In part II of this 3-part article, we discussed the banking sector and challenges facing it in Lebanon.

Now it gets real serious.

Related: Lebanon hinges its hope on 2018- Part II of III

 Fuming tensions

Tensions on the border with Israel have been rising since the November tweet from Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, which said: “Lebanon=Hezbollah, Hezbollah=Iran, Lebanon=Iran.” In early February, Lebanon accused the Israeli armed forces of violating its territory by air and at sea, as the Israeli media discussed the possibility of a widespread invasion to weaken Hezbollah’s missile capacity.

David Satterfield, acting assistant US secretary of state, visited both countries in early February, seeking to mediate not just over Hezbollah’s presence in south Lebanon and Syria, but over a border wall being built by Israel and a tender issued by Beirut for oil and gas exploration.

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Young argues that such engagement is in everyone’s interests. “In 2013, Saudi Arabia promised the Lebanese army and security forces some $4 billion in assistance, only to suspend payment in February 2016 because of Hezbollah’s influence over the country,” he writes. “The Saudi reversal may have disturbed the army and the countries slated to supply the weaponry and equipment, but it did absolutely nothing to Hezbollah.”

Ghobril tells TRENDS the Saudi decision to suspend military aid was part of a wider deterioration in relations between Lebanon and the Gulf: “In 2008-2010, Gulf visitors used to be the biggest spenders in Lebanon and constituted the largest share of Arab tourists in the country, but the number of visitors has declined since 2011, because of security concerns and instability in Lebanon. Investments have also declined. They have been selling personal real estate holdings, land, apartments, villas…” But Ghobril argues that recent events may illustrate strengths in the relations.

The United Arab Emirates is Lebanon’s second biggest export market, he points out, taking in mainly food products.

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“Diplomatic and political relations with Saudi Arabia are not where they should be, or where they used to be,” he says. “But commercial ties have not been broken. During the period when prime minister Saad Hariri resigned in November, there were many rumors locally of Saudi next steps — expelling expatriates, stopping banks wiring money to Lebanon, barring exports — but none of this happened and I don’t believe it will. The Saudis have made it clear they don’t intend to harm the Lebanese in Saudi Arabia or the Lebanese here.”