France’s envoy to Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, departed the country at the end of last week after spending several days meeting political leaders in the hopes of working towards a solution that could end the country’s ongoing political deadlock which has prevented the election of a president for 237 days.
Few were actually expecting Le Drian to come up with a solution on his first visit to Lebanon, with analysts telling NOW that this trip was more of a chance for the envoy to get a feel for the situation in the country before he works on putting together any ideas.
“Le Drian is coming to Lebanon, first of all, to scan the political scene in the country and to get some kind of feeling for how serious is Jihad Azour as a candidate and how much backing would Hezbollah and allies of Hezbollah accept such a nominee and at what cost if that was to be pursued,” Imad Salamy, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Lebanese American University, told NOW.
Currently, there are two main candidates on the table – Jihad Azour, the IMF director for the MENA region who is backed by the opposition, and Sleiman Frangieh, the head of the Marada Movement who is backed by Hezbollah and its allies (minus the Free Patriotic Movement who broke with Hezbollah and is currently supporting Azour).
Neither candidate has enough votes to get elected in any round of voting given the practically even divide in parliament and the somewhat lack of a consensus within the opposition over Azour’s candidacy.
The opposition does not really seem married to Azour as a candidate either, with sources telling Lebanese broadcaster MTV that the opposition told Le Drian that if Hezbollah pulls its support for Frangieh, then the opposition will do the same with Azour.
While this would seem like a step backward, it would at least be an acknowledgment by both sides that neither or their candidates had a chance of being elected, setting the table for serious talks over a potential consensus candidate.
Some names that have been floated are former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud and army commander Joseph Aoun.
Le Drian has his work cut out for him as no president can be elected without significant Christian support and without the nod from Hezbollah.
France’s envoy is expected to return to Lebanon at some point in July. However, whether or not he will bring a possible solution with him is still unclear.
Infiltration: Western sources are saying that Hezbollah has been exploiting Lebanon’s security infrastructure through agents inside the security services in order to further its goals.
According to the sources, Hezbollah recruited agents within Lebanon’s security establishment in order to take advantage of equipment used by the services as well as Western aid provided to the armed forces.
They also alleged that Hezbollah has been using the radars at Beirut’s airport and in Lebanon’s Navy without the knowledge of the military commanders.
Hezbollah, like other political parties in Lebanon, have long exploited state institutions for their own individual benefit, however, Hezbollah tends to focus on using these exploitations for its own security and military needs.
Playing with fire: On June 21, Israel claimed that Hezbollah set up a tent on Israeli territory in Kafr Shuba, facing the Israeli military, once again raising tensions along Lebanon’s southern border.
While Israel said that it was looking to have the issue resolved through diplomatic means, it also threatened to use force if the tent was not removed quickly. The tent is still in place as of writing.
Kfar Shuba was also the site of increased tensions the week prior when Israel was trying to bulldoze the area which is also claimed as being Lebanese territory.
Hezbollah has a long history of taking provocative actions along the southern border since the end of the Israeli occupation in South Lebanon in May 2000. This, along with other factors, led to the July 2006 war.
Protesting the Central Bank: Demonstrators gathered outside of the Central Bank in Beirut on June 23 to demand an end to the capital controls that have frozen them out of their savings, as well as to demand that the bank’s head, Riad Salameh, be held accountable for the ever-worsening economic crisis.
The protesters said that while they lost access to their money, politicians and the elite of the country were able to transfer large sums of their savings abroad, sparing them the fate of a haircut or not being able to access it at all.
Many Lebanese are resigned to the belief that their money is simply gone and that they will never see it again, while others continue to protest or have taken matters into their own hands and staged bank hold-ups so that they can get at least part of their money back.
Lebanon is in its fourth year of economic crisis, with none of the political class doing much of anything to bring it to an end.
Not on the list: Lebanon narrowly avoided being placed on a list of money laundering countries by the Financial Action Task Force after a preliminary assessment sparked worries that it would be.
The final assessment put Lebanon one mark above the threshold to be put on the list.
When the preliminary assessment was leaked, one diplomatic source said that if Lebanon managed to avoid being put on the list, it “would be a scandal.”
Suits: Disgraced former Nissan executive Carlos Ghosn filed a lawsuit against his former employer on June 20 in which he demanded a staggering $1 billion from the company.
Ghosn filed the suit which alleged libel, defamation, and fabricated material evidence by Nissan.
Ghosn filed the suit from Lebanon, where he is staying after he was dramatically smuggled out of Japan to Lebanon in an instrument case in 2019.
The former Nissan executive says that he will see the lawsuit through to the end.
Succession (Lebanon edition): After several decades of leading the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Joumblatt has finally has been replaced…by his son.
In an unsurprising turn of events, Taymour Joumblatt will succeed his father @walidjoumblatt as head of the @psp_lebanon, continuing the Joumblatt leadership over the party. #Lebanon #لبنان #تيمور_جنبلاط #وليد_جنبلاط https://t.co/pHUMp24ovg
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) June 25, 2023
During a party vote that surprised no one, Taymour Joumblatt was elected as the new head of the party after his father announced that he was stepping down at the end of last month.
Over the years, Taymour has taken an increasingly larger role in the party, setting the stage for his eventual coronation.
Now, only time will tell how he will lead the party and whether or not he will continue in his father’s tactic of siding with wherever the wind is blowing in Lebanon.
In the region
Bombing: Russian fighter jets bombed the rebel-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria on Sunday, June 25, killing at least nine civilians and injuring at least another 30 more.
The strike targeted a vegetable market in Jisr al-Shughour.
Locals in Idlib said that Syrian government and Russian attacks in the area have intensified in recent days.
The Russian strike came just after the resolution to a rebellion in Russia where the head of the Wagner mercenary group, which also operates in Syria, Yengeny Prigozhin, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, directed his troops towards Moscow before neighboring Belarus negotiated a settlement between the Russian government and Wagner.
Escalation: In what has become increasingly familiar, Israeli settlers rampaged through a Palestinian town in the West Bank under the watchful eye and protection of the Israeli military on June 21, killing one Palestinian and injuring another 12.
The attack by some 400 Israelis on the village of Turmus Shula came after gunmen affiliated with Hamas killed four Israelis the previous day.
Violence has been rising between Palestinians and Israelis over the last year, with the current far-right government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu only adding fuel to the flames.
Well over 100 Palestinians have been killed so far this year, with nearly 20 Israelis also being killed in attacks.
Taking the stand: Hollywood tycoon and billionaire Arnon Milchan testified in the corruption trial against Netanyahu in the first of what is expected to be 10 days of testimony.
Prosecutors claim that Milchan gave Netanyahu lavish gifts in exchange for favors – such as having Netanyahu put pressure on the US government to renew Milchan’s visa.
Netanyahu has denied all of the charges.
Depending on how the testimony goes, Milchan could potentially be one of the most damaging witnesses for Netanyahu.
Getting through: Aid for a refugee camp near a US military base in al-Tanf in southeastern Syria has finally gotten through thanks to the help of the US military.
The Rukban camp has been without aid for years, forcing those residing in the camp to take desperate measures to survive.
In order to circumvent having to first get approval from the Syrian government in Damascus to send the aid, the US aid groups used an obscure military law known as the Denton Program which allows American aid groups to use empty space on US cargo planes to transport humanitarian supplies.
Warming relations: In a sign of the improving ties in the Gulf, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian visited the UAE on June 22.
This visit comes as relations throughout the Gulf and wider Middle East have improved, with regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran agreeing to restore diplomatic relations.
During the visit, Amirabdollahian invited UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to visit Iran and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was invited to visit the UAE.
Raid: Albanian authorities raided the camp of the exiled Iranian group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) on June 20 over claims that the group breached their agreement with the Albanian government which allowed the MEK to take up base in the country.
According to the Albanians, the MEK has been conducting political activities, such as perpetrating cyber attacks against Iran, something which they were forbidden to do by the Albanian government when the MEK was forced to relocate from Iraq.
150 computers were seized in the raid.
The MEK was initially allied with the Islamic Revolution at the start of the uprising in 1979 but eventually broke away, perpetrating bombings and assassinations in Iran. It was removed from the US terrorist watchlist in 2013.
Foiled plot: Israel, on Monday, June 26, praised the reported foiling of an Iranian plot to target Israelis in Cyprus.
According to Israeli media, the plan targeted Israelis who were visiting the city of Limassol.
The Cypriot government did not comment on the alleged plot.
In 2021, Israel accused Iran of attempting to attack Israelis in Cyprus after an armed man was detained by Cypriot authorities, an accusation that was refuted by Iran.
What we’re reading
Art: Hezbollah has many different ways of generating an income. One of the smaller ways is using the art market, as was found in this recent report by NOW.
A complicated story: Depending on your point of view, Hezbollah Commander Imad Mughniyeh is a martyr, freedom fighter, or terrorist. However, I wrote about a new Showtime series that tells the story of the life and hunt for Mughniyeh in a more nuanced way that does not simply view things from the binary.
Gun sales: The US has for decades sold weapons to Israel under the claim that it was to help the Jewish nation protect itself. Now, though, The Washington Post’s Shira Rubin wrote about how the recent escalation in weapons and tactics is further entangling the US in the conflict.
Unexpected company: In recent years, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been trying to open up the country for more visitors. Unexpectedly, The New York Times’s Vivian Nereim, with photographs by Iman al-Dabbagh, found that it is Christians who are flocking to visit the Islamic country.
Baby shark: There have been increased shark sightings this summer as experts say that the illegal “blast fishing” is causing the increased number of sharks.
The sharks have been sighted off the coast of Kaslik and Sarafand-Zahrani.
So far no attacks have been documented but swimmers are being urged to take extra caution.
No fatal shark attacks have ever been recorded in Lebanon.
Podcasts: In the latest episode of The Beirut Banyan, Ronnie Chatah spoke with British artist Tom Young about his art, thereby session while being detained by Hezbollah following the 2006 war and why he continues to stay in Lebanon.
Sarah al-Asmar hosts Chrystine Mhanna, a journalist and human rights advocate, in the latest episode of GENXZ where the two discuss digital media trends, the difference between alternative and activist and the struggle for human rights advocacy.
Sarde after dinner wants to make you laugh this episode with Mouin Jaber and Médéa Azouri speaking with comedian and actor Imad Kehdy about the daily absurdities in Lebanon, comedy as a way to cope with trauma and jokes about sectarianism.