Bechara Boutros Al Rai, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon sees Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah responsible for economic, political, and moral ruin of the country. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
The Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Bechara Boutros Al Rai, has seen his country brought to economic, political, and moral ruin by the presence of Iranian proxy Hezbollah. It is Hezbollah that continues to support the mismanagement and colossal corruption of the Lebanese government, run by the same group of grifters who may exchange portfolios, but never seem to leave the government, thanks to the steadfast support of Hezbollah. For the terror group not only has its own members in Parliament and the cabinet, but controls such willing collaborators as the Maronite President Michel Aoun, a puppet of Hezbollah. It is Hezbollah that has 130,000 missiles and rockets hidden in civilian buildings – schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, mosques – threatening not only to drag Lebanon into another war with Israel that the other Lebanese do not want, but also holding much of the civilian population hostage should that war explode. It is Hezbollah that has more conventional weapons than 95% of the world’s armies, and prevents the Lebanese National Army from asserting itself in southern Lebanon. It is Hezbollah that is responsible for the explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, a catastrophe that was caused by the haphazard storing of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrates by Hezbollah, being kept for future attacks on Israel, that killed 200, wounded 6,500, left 300,000 people homeless, and caused $15 billion in damage.
A report on an Iranian media outlet’s attack on the Maronite Patriarch is here: “Beirut summons Iranian envoy for dressing down,” by Dean Shmuel Elmas, Israel Hayom, March 7, 2021:
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry has summoned Iran’s Ambassador to Beirut Ghazanfar Roknabadi for a dressing down after an Iranian media outlet accused Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai of supporting the normalization of ties with Israel.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe, himself a Maronite Christian, tried to set a conciliatory tone ahead of the meeting, to be held Monday. “This will be an honest conversation that is based on the friendship between the countries,” he said.
In other words, we know what Iran and Hezbollah are both capable of, so we’ll tread softly, and maintain our “friendship” with Iran by continuing to offer no resistance to Iran’s proxy Hezbollah insulting the Patriarch.
According to Wehbe, Lebanon’s Ambassador to Iran Hassan Abbas updated the Foreign Ministry in Beirut on the report in Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam network.
“He said the Iranian government apologized and condemned the accusations,” Wehbe said.
As is customary in the land of cedars, the people responsible for the controversy are none other than the Iranian ayatollahs’ emissaries in Lebanon – Hezbollah.
The Iranian government’s “apology” is pro forma; it pretends to distance itself from its own Arab-language media outlet, Al-Alam, but the Lebanese are not fooled. Some of the government officials have to pretend to believe the “apology” because at this time they cannot possibly risk tangling either with Iran or with its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
The trouble began on Feb. 27, when at a conference in the suburbs of Beirut, the Maronite patriarch declared, “The state needs to advocate neutrality so as not to become the victim of conflicts in the region.”
The Patriarch’s comment was clearly aimed at Hezbollah. It is that terror group that involves Lebanon in “conflicts in the region.” There are two such conflicts: first, the Arab conflict with Israel; Hezbollah, having dragged Lebanon into a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006, keeps threatening to do so again; second, there is the Sunni-Shi’a conflict that pits Iran, aided by its proxy Hezbollah, in a multi-pronged war against the Sunni Arab states, in order to create a Shi’a crescent, extending from Yemen to Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and finally to Lebanon, a prospect the Sunnis regard with dread.. The Maronite Patriarch wants the Lebanese state to extricate itself from these conflicts that have brought the Lebanese nothing but death and destruction, and that means limiting the power of Hezbollah to impose its own will on the government in Beirut.
He [the Patriarch] said there was a need to hold a UN-hosted conference in Lebanon to discuss the dismal state of the country. The message, which was clearly directed at Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah and his men, provoked the anger of the terrorist group.
The Maronite patriarch has seen the near-collapse of the Lebanese economy, caused by a series of musical-chairs cabinets filled by the same politicians, in different positions, offering only the same mixture as before of mismanagement and corruption. As noted above, Lebanese governments recently have been dominated by Hezbollah members, in both the Parliament and in the cabinet, and by others who are not members of, but willing collaborators with, Hezbollah, such as the Maronite President Michel Aoun.
“We oppose the Maronite patriarch’s call for an international conference,” Hezbollah parliamentarian Hassan Fadlallah said, adding that “international interference is a threat to Lebanon.”
So “international interference” is a “threat to Lebanon,” but Iranian interference is not? Please explain, Hassan Fadlallah. Patriarch Al-Rai’s call for an international conference is not a “threat to Lebanon” but it is a threat to Hezbollah. At such a conference, both the Western governments, and the Arab Sunni governments, would undoubtedly agree that Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon needs to be curbed, that its domination of the government prevents real reform, that the Lebanese state needs to be run by neutral technocrats whose only allegiance is to Lebanon itself, and not to Hezbollah and its puppet-master Iran. An international conference on Lebanon would recognize the malign role of Hezbollah in dominating the state. It would insist that Hezbollah’s power be cut down, by preventing the further transfer of Iranian funds to the terror group, by strengthening UNIFIL, supplying it with more soldiers and weapons so that the UN peacekeepers will finally be able to enforce their peacekeeping efforts in southern Lebanon, keeping the area between the “Blue Line” (of the U.N. peacekeepers) and the Litani River free of all armed personnel except those of UNIFIL and a strengthened Lebanese army. UNIFIL’s tasks would also include preventing Hezbollah from receiving new deliveries of weapons from Iran, or continuing to store previously delivered weapons in the area between the Blue Line and the Litani.
In an attempt to send the kind of assertive message to the patriarch they wouldn’t have been able to send from within the country, Hezbollah apparently took care to publish the particularly forceful report in Al-Alam.
In Lebanon itself a frontal assault by Hezbollah on the Maronite Patriarch, a revered figure, and not just among the country’s Christians, would enrage too many. The attack on him was thus broadcast on Iran’s Al-Alam network, providing Hezbollah with distance and deniability.
That report asserted Al-Rai was “planning steps against Hezbollah, and defines them [Hezbollah members] as a militia loyal to Iran. He claims he is smart and objective, and even talks about neutrality in the existential war with global Zionism. We will certainly see him in Israel’s arms tomorrow.”
Of course the Patriarch has only his moral authority. But he speaks truths that political figures in Lebanon are hesitant to express. As Maronite Patriarch, Al-Rai enjoys a physical security that other opponents of Hezbollah do not. Think only of Rafik Hariri, blown to kingdom come by Hezbollah, and of the anti-Hezbollah crusading journalist Lokman Slim, recently found shot to death in his car. Were Hezbollah to kill Al-Rai, it would set off another civil war, and this time it would not be Muslims against Christians, but Hezbollah against all the rest of the Lebanese.
Al-Rai did not describe Hezbollah as a “militia loyal to Iran” but if the shoe fits, wear it – that’s exactly what Hezbollah is, a militia group, and a terror group, loyal to Iran. It doesn’t make a move without checking with Iran, its bankroller, its supplier of weaponry, its moral guide, its puppet-master. And what is the worst thing Hezbollah can accuse this Lebanese patriot, Bouchara Boutros Al-Rai, of being? He’s called an agent of Zionism, who preaches “neutrality in the existential.war with global Zionism.” He’ll be “in Israel’s arms tomorrow.” The agent of Iran, Hezbollah, has the chutzpah to declare other Lebanese, for wanting to free their country from Hezbollqh’s grip, as “agents of Israel.”
The Maronite patriarch fumed at the report, saying, “This is an insulting report put out by a foreign media outlet. This is an attack on internal Lebanese issues as well as church affairs.”
Yes, that’s exactly what it was: an “insulting report” and an “attack on internal Lebanese issues.” Hezbollah may yet come to regret that it ever attacked so directly the one person in Lebanon – an incorruptible non-politician — around whom an anti-Hezbollah resistance might manage to form.