HomePoliticsBriefingUnhappy is the land

Unhappy is the land

Smoke billows following an Israeli air raid on a reported hangar close to the main coastal highway in the southern Lebanese city town of Ghaziyeh, around 30 Kilometres (20 miles) from the border with Israel, on February 19, 2024. At least two Israeli air strikes hit southern Lebanon on February 19, near the coastal city of Sidon, state media and an AFP photographer said. Hamas ally Hezbollah and its arch-foe Israel have been exchanging near-daily fire across the border since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7. (Photo by Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

All eyes on Rafah, The Israeli ongoing policy of starvation, Escalation before de-escalation in south Lebanon, Nabatieh under attack, NGO Sinai Foundation reveals construction of buffer zone for Gazan refugees at the Egyptian border, Lebanon commemorates Rafiq Hariri assassination’s 19th anniversary, Saad Hariri’s political return sends message to regional powers, France delivers a ceasefire proposal on the southern Lebanese borders, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah spoke twice in a week, Lebanon denies access to 116 would-be-migrants pushed back from Cyprus’ coasts, The Houthis’ growing independence from Tehran, EU launches defensive operation ASPIDES in the Red Sea, Growing tensions in Beirut’s neighbourhood of Bourj Hammoud, Turkey’s Erdogan in Egypt on first visit in a decade, Sudan Foreign Minister visits Tehran amid reports Iran provided drones, AUB seminar “Lebanon in its Second Century” discusses the role of Lebanese youth as a catalyst for change

All we have is our history, and it does not belong to us, Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset once said. We may well be its protagonists, but the way in which events and perspectives will be selected, in the aftermath of the armistices and ceasefires that yet seem so distant, will depend on factors and variables that are beyond our control: the number of deaths, the weight of a negotiation, the role we played in preventing history from repeating itself, happy to be alive and knowing where we stood, our alibis belied by a stirring and solemn ‘it must never happen again.’

When we’ll find ourselves writing the collective autobiography of this historical era, the testament to be passed down to our children, who knows how we will tell it, what words we will pick: whether those of the caesura, of the extraordinary, or those of the daily ordinariness of loss. Who knows how they’ll remember us – if they will remember us – and what now seems to us serious, significant, very important, will be forgotten or considered ridiculous, perhaps even sinful. 

Which day will be chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the onslaught of Gaza, of the hunger of Gaza, of the siege of the hospitals of Gaza – and how much weight will be given to the official celebrations. If shame will force us to lower our guilty gazes when we cannot answer the questions about where we were, how could we have allowed all this to happen, what did we know, back then, about Sudan, Syria, Yemen still at war. Whether the cynicism with which today we welcome the timid approach of regional diplomacy will turn out to be far-sighted or erroneous, whether mediations could really do anything in the face of hunger. If the waters of the Mediterranean will change their color due to all the dead and missing people in search of an alternative, if nothing will remain of what was once a cultural and commercial crossroads – but a cemetery of unknowns.

If the anonymity of these mass massacres will be replaced by the sculptural names of a few strong men – who time will remember as heroes; if thousands of soldiers will be acquitted under the excuse of the ‘logic of war’ – and the blame actually spread between the complicity of global powers will be officially attributed to a couple of political fanatics blinded by the thirst of power. If we’ll carry out the trial of the past, having failed that against those responsible for the present.


Unprecedented or historical repetition

The chain of last week’s events seems to alternate a series of superlatives without precedents – the bloodiest day, the most devastating massacre of civilians, the most alarming risk of famine, the most significant step towards the thaw of diplomatic antipathies – with the reading of pages that appear copied on their own words, events looking the same as each other, history that repeats itself: but with new players.

On one side, the leaders of regional powers – Sudan and Iran, as well as Turkey and Egypt – resuming diplomatic ties, due to an increasingly urgent need for communication, let to believe that something is changing, progressive détente marking what Mehmet Ozkan, a professor at the National Defense University in Turkey interviewed by Middle East Eye, defined as “a shift from strategic stubbornness to strategic relations” – of course, leaving yet to be seen how vibrant the relations between the once-enemy countries will be. 

On the other side, as highlighted by political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail in his weekly analysis for NOW, the current political landscape in the region might not seem more than a familiar game with new players, where leadership does not renovate, but merely shifts to a different axis or sectarian group. Particularly in Lebanon, the rise of Shia influence, while offering a change in governance, risks plunging the country back into the familiar cycle of instability: a change that, akin to swapping one set of leaders for another, does not necessarily promise improvement. Instead, it raises concerns that, despite some temporary stability, the country might revert to its historical patterns of civil strife rooted in religious divides and social identity conflicts within a decade or two. The challenge, therefore, lies not just in passing the baton of leadership, but in fundamentally altering the way Lebanon navigates its complex sectarian dynamics to ensure long-term peace and cohesion.


No need for heroes

In his theatrical drama ‘Life of Galileo’ – written at the end of World War II but set in the time of the famous scientist, between the 16th and 17th century – the German playwright Bertolt Brecht attributed to the main character, condemned by the Catholic tribunal of the Inquisition for his ideological freedom, the famous maxim: “unhappy is the land that needs heroes.” Himself a target of Hitler’s censorship, his pieces being destroyed during the Nazi book burning of 1933, Brecht summed up his denouncement of hero worship in authoritarian societies – strongly convinced that free societies do not require heroes to solve crisis, but on the contrary, individual responsibility is elevated and powerful, and single-men-worship amounts to blind obedience that leads to self-created incapacitation. 

Especially looking at the past week, as Lebanon finds itself at a crucial juncture between regional power plays, the return of Saad Hariri – on the 19th anniversary commemoration of his father Rafiq’s assassination – whether symbolic or substantial, seems to add little to the complex regional equation. The same goes for the two speeches delivered by Hezbollah Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, marking the sixth and the seventh since the beginning of tensions across southern Lebanese borders, broadcast live on the party’s TV channel, al-Manar, and on screens for crowds gathered at several locations in Lebanon, including in the southern suburbs of Beirut, in Hermel, Nabatieh, and Baalbeck.

Though, as remarked by Ramzi Abou Ismail’s cited exploration, the complex dynamics within Lebanon, the regional power plays in light of rising Iranian influence, Sunni political underrepresentation, along with Hariri’s own political history, all contribute to the drawing of a scenario where simple solutions or messianic figures are unlikely to be effective. Lebanon’s challenges are instead multifaceted – economic woes, sectarian divides, and external pressures – and all demanding nuanced and collective approaches for resolution. The idea of a singular savior, as comforting as it may be, remains just that: a concept, serving as a reminder that the responsibility for Lebanon and the region’s future rests not on the shoulders of one individual, but on the collective will and action of its people. 


In Lebanon

Back in town: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s second visit to Beirut since he self-exiled in the United Arab Emirates in January 2022 was marked by enthusiasm and strong support backing his desirable return to politics. Meetings with political and religious leaders, held on the eve of his father assassination’s 19th anniversary, alternated with popular demonstrations around Lebanon’s capital, especially in the Sunni-majority neighborhood of Tariq Jdide, and in Downtown’s Martyrs Square, where on February 14 a big crowd gathered to commemorate Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in 2005, NOW reported.

Among the personalities that Saad Hariri met during his visit there was Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, Grand Mufti Abdellatif Deriane, who honored Rafiq’s grave during the day on Tuesday, according to the state-run National News Agency (NNA), followed by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who recited Al-Fatiha by the shrine. Marada leader and presidential candidate Sleiman Frangieh and his son, MP Tony Frangieh, were also received in the evening at Maison du Centre, joining Hariri for dinner. According to reports from al-Jadeed Television Channel, Hariri also met with Speaker of the House Nabih Berri on Monday evening, away from the media.

On Tuesday morning, the former Prime Minister received US Ambassador Lisa Johnson, with whom “he discussed the latest developments,” said Hariri’s press statement, which also claimed Johnson had described the meeting as “excellent.” Hariri also received other ambassadors based in Lebanon, including France’s Herve Magro and Egypt’s Ala Moussa.

Outgoing Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi also honored Rafiq Hariri’s tomb in downtown Beirut. “Martyr Rafiq Hariri’s model was one of reconstruction and legitimacy. Through his martyrdom, he united the Lebanese around the idea of building a state. May he rest in peace,” he wrote on X.


A message to regional powers: Former MP Hassan Yaqoub believed that the return of former President Saad Hariri this year is a message to regional powers, especially Saudi Arabia. “The expected popular attendance and welcome by political force this year is a message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, specifically to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to re-accredit Hariri politically in Lebanon in the next post-settlement phase after the unjust war on Gaza,” Yaacoub said, quoted by NNA.

A rare case of a Lebanese leader who had not fought in the war, Saad’s father, Rafiq Hariri, became Prime Minister for the first time in 1992: close friend of the late French president Jacques Chirac, he was known for his international contacts, and  as a Saudi passport holder, he was often perceived as a symbol of Saudi influence in the post-war years during which Lebanon was dominated by Syria. Moreover, in the year before his assassination, Hariri had been embroiled in a row over the extension of the term of pro-Syria President Emile Lahoud. This set the stage for an escalation of rivalry between Shi’ite Iran and its allies on the one hand, including Syria, and US-allied, Sunni-led Gulf Arab states on the other.

In the aftermath of his father’s assassination – which ignited the mass protests against Syria’s presence in Lebanon known as ‘Cedar Revolution’ – Saad led a coalition of anti-Syrian parties, the March 14 movement, backed by Western States and Saudi Arabia. The rival movement of March 8, gathering then Syria’s Lebanese allies, including Hezbollah, confronted the other block, in a series of tensions that culminated in 2008.

Therefore, Saad’s reappearance in Lebanon’s political realm might bring to the reemergence of sectarian direct confrontation, extending to regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, despite the recent peace-making approach of the two regional players, mediated by China last March. Following Tuesday’s talks with the Saudi ambassador in Iran, Abdullah bin Saud al-Anzi, in fact, Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani said that Tehran is ready to hold security and defense talks with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf littoral states.

However, concerning Saad’s possible role in post-war stability’s plan in Lebanon and the region, former MP Yaacoub stated that “the irony is that the obstacle to this stage is Netanyahu’s madness, which is breathing down his neck from the continuation of the war, the end of which will be the end of his political career.”


Restoring stability: Caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, on Tuesday affirmed that “the situation in the south is not devoid of caution, but matters, God willing, are heading towards some kind of long-term stability.” The speech, which came during Mikati’s meeting with the Association of Economic journalists at the Grand Serail, ensured that “contacts are ongoing in this regard,” and that the Prime Minister got involved in a series of meetings and encounters with many international officials, including US Envoy Amos Hochstein, on the occasion of Thursday and Friday’s Munich conference, “to find out where we stand on the path of tranquilizing the situation and restoring stability.”

During the gathering, marking the 60th Munich Security Conference opening session in Germany – under the title ‘Protecting Innocents and Volunteers in Relief during Wars’ – Mikati reiterated Lebanon’s firm commitment to all United Nations resolutions, and that “it is Israel’s responsibility to implement these resolutions, cease its aggression in the south, stop violating Lebanese sovereignty, and withdraw from all occupied Lebanese territories.” He affirmed that “while Lebanon emphasizes the need for stability in the region and calls on all parties to refrain from escalation, we find Israel continuing its aggression, prompting us to question the steps taken by the international community to stop this.”

On his side, US Envoy and Energy Advisor Hochstein, who mediated the maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel, stated that the US will have to do a lot to support Lebanon in the coming years. Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, he mentioned the need to help build up the Lebanese armed forces, as well as southern Lebanon’s affected economy, which has been badly impacted by ongoing fighting between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. The US is a key donor to the Lebanese Army and its 80,000 members, providing over 3 billion dollars in military aid since 2006. Hochstein clarified he would need a coalition of international support to get Lebanon back on its feet. “I’m hopeful that we will see support from Gulf allies in this next phase,” he stated.


Nabatieh under strike: Seven civilians and three Hezbollah members were killed in a single air strike on a residential building in Nabatieh on Wednesday, February 14, marking the deadliest day in southern Lebanon since October 8. The seven civilians were all members of the same family, gathered for dinner – while a three-year-old child was pulled alive from under the rubble and hospitalized.

After four violent raids on nearby villages, the deadly attack was carried out in the evening on a residential building in the town – being probably aimed at Ali Mohammad Debs, a military official within the party who had escaped a first assassination attempt when his vehicle was targeted on February 8, also in Nabatieh, as local sources reported – and who died under Wednesday’s strike.

The chain of events began on Wednesday morning, when a salvo of rockets targeted a military base in Safed, in northern Israel, located more than 20 kilometers away from the border, killing – according to the Israeli army – one soldier, and wounding eight other people. This operation has been claimed neither by Hezbollah nor the other groups that are active along Lebanon’s southern border, although several observers believe that it bears the mark of Hezbollah – causing a series of violent reactions in Israel, whose MK Benny Gantz claimed responsible the Lebanese government.

In response to these developments, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the “new massacres” of civilians in south Lebanon, asking caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council against Israel. “While we call on all parties to engage in de-escalation, the Israeli enemy continues its aggressions, which prompts us to ask the relevant international parties about the measures taken to contain the enemy,” he added.

“The bloodshed in Nabatieh is in the hands of international envoys, the United Nations and human rights organizations, not to condemn what happened but to act urgently” to stop Israel, said Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in a statement by his press office. Andrea Tenenti, spokesperson at the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), urged in a statement “all parties involved to halt hostilities immediately.”


The French plan: On Tuesday, Reuters reported on a French proposal delivered to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities with Israel and settling the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier, according to a document consulted by the news agency. Aiming to end fighting between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel at the border, the plan proposes for Hezbollah fighters’ units to withdraw 10 km from the Blue Line separating the warring countries – a third of the distance set to be free from non-state arms in 2006 UN Security Council Resolution 1701. That would be the first step of a 10-day plan involving bolstering the Lebanese Army’s border presence and gradual resumption of talks on disputed border areas. 

The French proposal recalls a ceasefire which ended a war between Hezbollah and Israel in 1996, and also the already mentioned UN Resolution 1701 of 2006. In step one, the two sides would cease military operations; then, within three days, step two would see Lebanese armed groups withdrawing combat forces at least 10 km north of the frontier, and Lebanon initiating the deployment of soldiers in the south. Israel, on its side, would cease overflights into Lebanese territory. Last, as the third step, Lebanon and Israel would resume negotiations on delimiting the land border with the support of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force. The parties would also engage in negotiations on a roadmap to ensure the establishment of an area free of any non-state armed groups between the border and the Litani river.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who met with US envoy Amos Hochstein during the week, said the proposal was not “an official paper from the French side, but rather a paper of ideas.” However, Hezbollah formally rejects negotiating a de-escalation until the war in Gaza ends, a position reiterated by senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah in regards to the proposed plan’s issue.


Twice in a week: On Tuesday, February 13, marking Hezbollah’s ‘Day of the Wounded and Prisoners of the Resistance,’ the leader of the Iran-backed party, Hassan Nasrallah, has spoken in his sixth speech since the start of the group’s military confrontations with Israel on October 8. 

Televised on the party’s TV channel, al-Manar, and on screens for crowds gathered at several locations in Lebanon, including in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hermel, Nabatieh, and Baalbeck, Nasrallah’s speech highlighted the Lebanese people’s responsibility to “protect our successes and victories by continuing the struggle, jihad, and perpetually supporting the resistance,” just as “the wounded, the prisoners, the missing, their families, and the martyrs” did.

Announcing a second speech on Friday, where he would address “everything concerning the presidential issue and the political exploitation of events at the national level,” the leader mainly focused on the situation on the Lebanese front, stressing the Zionist threat of a ‘strong Israel’ – which have included the colonization of part of Lebanon – as a danger for the country similar to that of a ‘deterred’ or ‘restrained’ neighbor, which can also shake Lebanon’s stability.

Mentioning the UN Resolution 1701 which followed the 2006 war, and stressing how consequent “border security, maintaining peace, deterring Israeli aggression” came as the “result of the resistance’s efforts,” Nasrallah pleased the people of southern Lebanon, the majority of whom support the resistance effort, some even being part of it – transcending sectarian divides. Similarly, talking against sectarianism, he mentioned the “ranks of traitors and those who collaborate with Israel, that included Muslims, Christians, Druze, and so on.” Suggesting the need to prevent the conflict from turning into a sectarian confrontation, as it benefits Israel, Nasrallah noted that “what is related to Israel should not become a religious or sectarian issue.” 

Talking about the people from the south, he stressed that “they are the ones who have suffered from Israeli aggression since 1948,” who “have seen with their own eyes that what protects them is the Resistance, that it is the reason they can return home after being displaced,” and that that is the region why they embrace this battle, sending “their children to the front lines, even if they are an only child.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General spent very critical words on foreign delegations coming to visit Lebanon, claiming their only goal is “to ensure Israel’s security, its protection, and the end of firing towards Israeli territory.” “For them,” he added, “the issue of the still-occupied areas, Ghajar, the Shebaa Farms, must be negotiated later, God willing. Their priority is Israel’s security.” In recent weeks, in fact, there have been several diplomatic visits to Lebanon, notably by the Italian, British, and French foreign ministers, as the international community expresses a growing concern about regional escalation. Describing their statements as “intimidating,” according to Nasrallah international delegations “want to intimidate us by saying that Israel will start a war, but if the Israelis really wanted war, they would have started it from the beginning.”

With similar tones, Nasrallah warned against social media posts, claiming that the war will expand to Lebanon, and described them as part of “psychological warfare,” not benefitting anyone. “When you receive such calls, be cautious,” he warned, advising his public to contact Hezbollah officials, in case they have doubts about social media statements. Concerning the spread of news on the Internet, moreover, he also warned against the provision of information – such as the names of commanders killed, or the exact geographical location of a strike – which could benefit Israel, facilitating its attacks.


The seventh speech: On Friday, February 16, as announced, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah spoke at a ceremony commemorating the party’s former leaders who “fell as martyrs,” namely Sheikh Ragheb Harb, former Secretary General Abbas Moussawi, and military chief Imad Moughnieh – marking his seventh speech since the start of the war against Israel across Lebanon’s southern borders.

Coming after Israel’s massacre of civilians in Nabatieh and Al-Suwanah, Nasrallah’s televised statement – broadcasted live from Beirut – warned that the enemy will pay a high price for the massacres of Lebanese civilians – signaling the conflict across the Lebanon-Israel border could intensify. “The response to the massacre should be continuing and escalating the resistance work at the front,” he said. “Our women and our children who were killed in these days, the enemy will pay the price of spilling their blood in blood.” 

While emphasizing that targeting civilians will not go unanswered, Hezbollah’s leader cited the resistance’s missile strikes on Kiryat Shmona as a preliminary response. He also highlighted that the killings had increased Hezbollah’s determination and said the group would increase its “presence, strength, fire, anger” and expand its operations, as Israel “must expect and wait for.” During the ceremony, in fact, he reiterated the party’s commitment to defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and dignity, apart from criticizing the international community for its failure to support Gaza and calling out the American administration for its hypocrisy in the Palestinian conflict. as well as its interference with the weakened Lebanese forces.

“We call for the Lebanese army to be a strong and capable force, but it is America that hinders its strength,” Nasrallah claimed in this regard. “In a country like Lebanon,” he continued, “we must now more than ever hold onto the resistance, its weapons, and its capabilities. This is what works, what deters and frightens the enemy, and this is the strength of popular resistance.” He then assured that neither Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, nor any other participating faction on the front had discussed the imposition of a president or amendments to the quotas or political system in the current context. “The purpose of the resistance weapon is not to alter the political system, the constitution, or the system of government, nor is it to impose new sectarian quotas in Lebanon,” he pointed out, adding that “the matter of resistance transcends these considerations, as it pertains to the defense of Lebanon, the south, our people, and their dignity.”

Last, in the context of Lebanon’s borders, Nasrallah declared that they have been demarcated and any negotiations will be based on the principle of “get out of our Lebanese land,” he affirmed.

Shortly after Nasrallah’s speech, Hezbollah’s offices announced the party targeted an Israeli army facility in Shebaa Farms, occupied territory that Lebanon regards as its own, with missiles, adding that casualties were inflicted.


Illegal pushbacks: Lebanese authorities denied entry to 116 Syrian nationals returned by Cyprus after an informal sea migration attempt, Cypriot officials said on Tuesday, as emergency hotline Alarm Phone posted on X, with the would-be-migrants’ status and location remaining unconfirmed. 

According to Info Migrants’ report, following the boats’s departure from Lebanon, Lebanese authorities issued an alert, and the migrants were picked up on Sunday off Cyprus. The next day, three Cypriot police and national guard vessels escorted them back to Lebanon, but they were denied entry, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said. “Unfortunately, the authorities of Lebanon did not accept the return of those on board the Lebanese vessel,” AFP quoted Ioannou as saying. He claimed he did not know the reason for the refusal to allow the migrants to disembark. “Lebanon has a very big problem” with migration, said Ioannou, adding that the issue would be handled politically.

Last August, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry affirmed it would deny entry to non-Lebanese informal migrants “regardless of their boat’s starting point,” after criticism from human rights NGOs regarding the deportation to Syria or detention by General Security of several people forcibly returned from Cyprus. 

Cypriot authorities, on their side, facing an influx of illegal migrants – mostly Syrians, with a reported rise since the Hamas-Israel war erupted in October – have repeatedly called for European aid to Lebanon, calling the country a “barrier” without which “all of Europe will have a problem.” As the European Union’s easternmost member, with asylum-seekers constituting over five percent of the 915,000 population, Cyprus has had an agreement in place with Lebanon for years regarding the return of irregular migrants. The recent war, according to Nicosia, which has also triggered cross-border fighting in southern Lebanon, weakened the country’s efforts to monitor its territorial waters and prevent the departure of migrant vessels. 

Last year, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed concern over the return of more than 100 Syrian migrants to Lebanon, saying they had not been screened to assess whether they needed legal protection, or might be deported to their homeland. 


Tensions in Bourj Hammoud: As reported by Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour, the municipality of Bourj Hammoud is planning “imminent meetings with security officials” after a stabbing purportedly committed by a Syrian national provoked uproar among residents, some of whom demanded “measures to organize the Syrian presence in the neighborhood.” 

The incident, which occurred on Sunday night, is not the first of such kind. Former Beirut municipal council member Hagop Terzian, citing apartments’ overcrowding, where dozens of people are living, called on local officials to “stop issuing domicile certificates unless the applicant has obtained a valid lease from the municipality.” The incident seems to have caused a great deal of tension in this neighborhood, traditionally inhabited by a strong Lebanese-Armenian community, but also home to a diverse range of demographics, including many Syrian refugees.

A statement signed by ‘The youth and residents of Burj Hammoud and its surroundings,’ circulating on social networks and addressed to the municipality and the mukhtars, voiced concerns about the Syrian presence in the neighborhood. The text “warns elected officials that if measures are not taken within a week to organize the Syrian presence in the neighborhood, they will be forced to take whatever measures they deem necessary,” providing no further details.


A catalyst of change: Reported by NOW’s Maan Barazy, the third session of the Cultural Track held at the American University of Beirut as part of the brainstorming seminar series ‘Lebanon in its Second Century: A Future Vision’ discussed the role of Lebanon’s youth as a possible catalyst for change. Entitled “What Role For The Youth Of Lebanon in the Second Centennial,” the seminar was moderated by Lebanese journalist and researcher Jad Yatim, and included two sessions. 

In the first one, Professor Rita Chemali, a lecturer at Saint Joseph University’s Institute of Political Science, highlighted the need for a study on the impact of any public policy on the young population, such as taxation and fees on services youth consume the most. “Youth need to be catalysts for change and the ones shaping public policies,” she added, emphasizing the importance of carefully monitoring the effects of any public policy on the young population.

Then, Member of Parliament Mark Daou called on youth to take advantage of the transitional political phase Lebanon is passing through. With the help of technology and on social media, they can effectively and independently voice their opinions without censorship, more so than before, he noted. Daou also called on youth to reverse the state of the failing system, presenting it as an opportunity for them as long as they succeed in modern technologies. Despite Daou’s call for the use of technology in advocacy being understandable, however, Lebanon is suffering from a digital divide and a high cost in internet and communication means, which makes it hard for a significant portion of the population to engage with technology comfortably. Lebanon’s youth need social inclusion now more than ever as the crisis of 2019 extends into its fifth year. 

Although the youth constitute about one-third of Lebanon’s population, moreover, the Lebanese authorities have not dealt with the youth as a target for human development. In fact, after in April 2012 the Lebanese Council of Ministers took a significant step by approving the National Youth Policy, which includes a list of 137 policy recommendations adopted by the Lebanese government to improve the lives of young people between the ages of 15 to 29, today, ten years after the adoption of the policy and four years after the development of the action plan, the government has still not made use of the recommendations which serve as an operational framework for the National Youth Policy to better address youth issues – mainly due to the absence of adequate funding, relevant laws, and a concrete action plan with follow-up mechanisms.


In The Region 

Policy of starvation: Hamas has threatened to walk out of truce talks if more aid is not quickly delivered to the Gaza Strip, including the famine-threatened north of the territory, reported AFP. “Negotiations cannot take place while hunger gnaws at the Palestinian people. The movement intends to suspend negotiations until aid is brought to northern Gaza,” announced a Hamas leader in a statement broadcast by al-Aqsa, the movement’s channel. Questioned by AFP, a senior official of the Palestinian Islamist movement confirmed that “the Egyptian and Qatari mediators had been informed of Hamas’ intention to suspend negotiations until aid is brought to the Gaza Strip, including the north.”

Israel’s policy of starvation in the Gaza Strip will have long-term, irreversible effects, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said on Wednesday, after international experts predicted that the number of victims of starvation and related diseases may exceed the number of those killed directly during the Israeli military campaign against Palestinians in the Strip, ongoing since October 2023. A new policy paper issued by Euro-Med Monitor entitled ‘The Gaza Strip: A scene of genocide since 7 October and a potential famine zone on 7 February’ examines the dire food situation in the Strip and the probable famine there, particularly in the enclave’s northern governorates. Primarily based on reports issued by international organizations, most notably the global initiative Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), the report showed that the number of trucks carrying humanitarian aid that are permitted to enter the Gaza Strip per day, in the best-case scenario, is between 70 and 100, with two of those trucks going to the northern governorates. Prior to October 7, the number of aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip daily was at least 500.

“The situation is getting more complicated because the people living in the Gaza Strip are under siege from all sides, making it impossible for them to produce the food they need locally or get it from other sources,” stated Lima Bastami, Director of the Legal Department at Euro-Med Monitor.


All eyes on Rafah: While prospects for a ceasefire dim and risk of famine rises, an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah – the most densely populated area in Gaza – appears imminent days after a devastating night of air strikes on the southern city. In this regard, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed back on growing calls from world leaders to avoid a ground operation in Rafah, saying doing so would mean losing the war against Hamas, and that Israel will carry out its operation against the southern city even in the event of an agreement with Hamas over the hostages, said Netanyahu quoted by AFP. “Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are essentially telling us: ‘Lose the war.’ I won’t let that happen,” he vowed at an evening press conference in Jerusalem held on Saturday. “We won’t capitulate to any pressure.”

Rafah, which sits on the Gaza-Egypt border, is allegedly the last remaining Hamas stronghold in the enclave, but it is also where over a million displaced Palestinians have fled to seek shelter from fighting elsewhere. With over 1.5 million displaced Palestinians crowded into makeshift shelters in the southern area, in fact, a full-blown Israeli military entry into Rafah would be an “unfathomable catastrophe, further expanding the humanitarian disaster beyond all imagination,” said Dr Rick Peeperkorn, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, on Wednesday, speaking in a press briefing from Rafah – where WHO responders already are struggling to cope with a broken health system, an unending flood of wounded Palestinians, and barriers to resupply of health facilities further north with needed medical supplies.  Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed since 7 October 2023 due to Israel’s ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip, with about 100,000 reported missing or wounded, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.

In response to a question from The Times of Israel on whether there had been plans to enter Gaza’s southernmost city earlier, at the beginning of the ground offensive, and, if so, why that step had not been taken then, Netanyahu expanded on the government’s efforts to cope with the refugees in Rafah. “I won’t get into our plans,” the premier responded, but “there is a lot of space north of Rafah” to evacuate the civilians sheltering there. “There will be space for evacuation. We have to do this in an orderly fashion – and that’s the instruction I’ve given to the IDF,” he added,

Meanwhile, Israel is waging a concerted campaign to destroy the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), said UNRWA Head Philippe Lazzarini in an interview published on Saturday,  according to the Palestinian News Agency Wafa. “Israel’s demand for his resignation is part of this campaign,” Lazzarini told the Swiss Tamedia newspaper group on Saturday, adding that “currently, we are facing a broad and coordinated campaign from Israel aimed at destroying UNRWA. This is a long-term political goal, because they believe that if the agency is abolished, the issue of the status of Palestinian refugees will be resolved once and for all, and with it the right of return. There is a much bigger political goal behind this issue.” Lazzarini confirmed that more than 150 UNRWA facilities have been damaged since the beginning of the war in Gaza.


Buffer zone: Construction is underway to create a security zone along Gaza’s border with Egypt that could receive Palestinian refugees fleeing an expected Israeli assault on Rafah, according to an Egyptian rights group. The NGO Sinai Foundation for Human Rights (SFHR) stated on Wednesday that it has obtained information from a relevant source indicating that the Egyptian authorities have begun building a secure buffer zone surrounded by cemented walls in eastern Sinai, suggesting that there are undisclosed preparations to accommodate Palestinian residents evacuating the besieged enclave and that the resettlement plan is being implemented. 

Since the war on Gaza began in October, there have been several Israeli proposals reported in the media detailing plans to push Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt, which Cairo has rejected. This comes after the removal of the rubble of original residents’ homes destroyed during what Sisi’s media described as “war on terrorism,” as well as the preparation and levelling of the soil, with these works expected to be completed in ten days. Earlier this month, moreover, Egyptian journalist Ahmed El-Madhoun posted a video online that showed workers strengthening the security wall separating Egypt and Gaza.

The human rights foundation quoted two local contractors as saying that construction work undertaken by local companies, commissioned by the Sons of Sinai construction company owned by businessman close to the authorities, Ibrahim Al-Arjani, aims to establish a walled area with a height of seven meters – starting from a point in the village of Qous Abu Waad, south of Rafah, heading north towards the Mediterranean Sea parallel to the border with Gaza. Last month, Middle East Eye reported that a company owned by Al-Arjani and parts of the Egyptian security services was profiteering from the crossing at Rafah. Moreover, an investigation carried out by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and independent Egyptian website Saheeh Masr found that intermediaries were selling exit permits at prices ranging from $4,500 to $10,000 for Palestinians and $650 to $1,200 for Egyptians.

According to the foundation, engineering works began early on Monday, February 12, in the northern limit area between the village of Al-Masoura to the west and a point on the international border line south of the Rafah crossing. It continued that the southern boundary of these engineering works is between the village of Jouz Abu Raad and a point on the international border line south of the Karm Abu Salem crossing, with the presence of officers affiliated with the Military Intelligence and a number of armored vehicles carrying armed tribal elements affiliated with the Knights of Al-Heitham group.


Houthis’ growing independence: In a recent interview with Marianne Weekly, Houthi leader Mohammed al-Bukhaiti dismissed allegations that the Yemeni rebels are acting under the control of Iran, which trains, finances and supplies them with increasingly sophisticated weapons. “It is true that we are part of the resistance axis, along with Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, but our decision-making is autonomous,” he claimed.

Despite relations between the Houthis and Iran having been a subject of debate for years, they have taken a completely different turn since the start of the war in Gaza, in which the Houthis are playing a leading role. Their missile attacks on Israel, although intercepted before damage was done, and mainly their attacks on cargo ships supposedly linked to or heading for Israel, along with the almost daily exchanges of strikes against US ships, have been praised across the region.

Iran began supplying the Houthi movement with weapons when Saudi Arabia first intervened in Yemen in 2009, in support of Ali Abdallah Saleh’s regime against the Houthi insurrection – as a possible opportunity for Tehran to destabilize its Saudi rival. The Iran-Houthi relationship took on a new dimension after Saudi Arabia’s destructive campaign against Yemen in 2015. In particular, Tehran has enabled the Houthis to gain partial autonomy by teaching them to manufacture some weapons, notably short-range missiles and drones.

In view of the recent Houthis’ successes, while Tehran’s role in coordinating the actions of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ benefits from the vagueness surrounding its plausible denial, it is more important than ever for the Houthis to claim their autonomy, particularly since they often accused the Yemeni government of being in the pay of the Saudis and the Emiratis.

However, recent reports have alleged behind-the-scenes pressure from Tehran to avoid regional escalation. According to an Iranian source quoted by the Middle East Eye, the US contacted Iran via a Saudi channel, informing Tehran that it was about to strike the Houthis in Yemen, and urged it to restrain its allied group during the strike.

Iranian influence on the Houthis is certainly incomparable to that exerted within the Shiite militias in Iraq, who infiltrated the army and parliament, or Lebanese Hezbollah: yet it seems that in terms of regional policy, Iran has at least facilitated, if not dictated, the Yemeni group’s integration into the constellation of Shiite allies in the region.


EU reaction: The Houthis have carried out almost daily attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November and incurred the wrath of the US and its allies. The last occurred on Saturday, targeting the British oil tanker Pollux, as the group’s military spokesperson, Yahya Sarea, said in a statement – claiming responsibility for the recent attack. 

The UK Maritime Trade Safety Agency (UKMTO) and naval safety specialist company Ambrey previously reported of an explosion near a ship off the coast of the town of Mokha. “The ship and crew are safe”, specified the British Agency, while Ambrey communicated that the vessel would have suffered minor damage. The US State Department then indicated that a missile fired from Yemen had hit a “Panamanian-flagged ship en route to India, carrying crude oil.”

As a reaction, on February 12, the EU formally announced the launch of Operation ASPIDES – meaning ‘protector’ -, aimed at controlling shipping in the Red Sea due to continuous operations on Israeli-linked vessels by the Yemeni Houthis. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell confirmed that the mission would commence on February 19, followed by a senior EU official who announced the mission being planned to last for a year, with the possibility of adjustments to the timeline if necessary. “It is designed to last for a year. However, if necessary, we can certainly reevaluate,” the source told reporters in Brussels, as reported by Al Mayadeen.

Earlier on January 31, Borrell announced that the European Union aimed to establish and launch the maritime mission in the Red Sea no later than mid February, claiming that it would be “defensive” and no operations would be carried out on land. The EU mission allegedly aims to focus solely on protecting merchant ships by intercepting Yemeni rockets. 

France, Greece and Italy have shown interest in leading the mission, with seven countries so far indicating they would be willing to send naval assets, diplomats said, adding that it would be based on existing EU missions in the region. The operation would initially see three vessels under EU command: in this regard, France and Italy already have warships in the region – while Germany has more recently deployed the frigate Hessen to the Red Sea, on February 8, for these purposes. The German government, moreover, reportedly approved the participation of Bundeswehr forces in the operation, German Deputy Government Spokesperson Wolfgang Buchner announced, adding that the mandate will involve the deployment of 700 troops and last till February 28, 2025. 


Pivoting towards Iran: Marking the first such high-level diplomatic visit in seven years and the sign of rapidly warming relations, since the two countries’ diplomatic cut in 2016, Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Al Sadiq travelled to Tehran in early February to meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Following their meeting, Raisi expressed Iran’s support for a strong government in Sudan and for the preservation of its territorial integrity, Iranian news agency IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian then praised plans to reopen embassies and said that Tehran stands ready to share its expertise in fields such as industry, engineering, and technology. Sudan and Iran agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations last October following a series of high-level communications between the two countries. Three months before that announcement, Al Sadiq and Amir-Abdollahian had met in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku in the first such high-level public meeting since 2016 – seven years after Khartoum had severed them and closed its embassy in Tehran.

During his trip to Iran, Sudanese Minister Al Sadiq visited the Iran House of Innovation and Technology (IHIT), an agency dedicated to the promotion of Iranian exports, and discussed with its director Amirhossein Mirabadi avenues of cooperation in the fields of science and technology. The IHIT has been involved in promoting, among other products, drones for civilian use. One of the most coveted supplies for the Sudanese military are Iranian combat drones, such as the popular Mohajer-6. Some of these have already been shipped to Sudan, senior Western officials have told Bloomberg, and have been reportedly employed by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). 

One of the main reasons considered to have prompted the Sudanese army to re-establish relations with Iran, in fact, is believed to be its intention to get military assistance at a time when its forces have suffered major setbacks in recent months against the warring Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on multiple strategic fronts, including in Nyala and Wad Madani, the country’s two largest cities after Khartoum. Nevertheless, the implications that this so far limited flow of Iranian weapons and drones to the military could have for the future of the war in Sudan is still under question, especially considering that the official army’s shortcomings go far beyond the arsenal at its disposal.

On the diplomatic front, instead, re-emerging relations between Sudan and Iran are also seen as a result of the deep crisis between the SAF and the United Arab Emirates, while, for Iran, one of the main interests in restoring relations with the African country and regaining some of its influence there is considered to be its strategic access to the Red Sea, coveted by multiple regional and international powers.


A new era: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday, welcomed by his counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, on his first visit since 2012, marking the biggest step yet towards cementing a rapprochement between the two regional powers. After years of cold ties – primarily due to Sisi’s 2013 coup against his predecessor Mohamed Morsi, an Erdogan ally – relations between the two leaders have improved since 2021, following behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts, whose first fruit emerged during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There, Erdogan and Sisi briefly met for the first time.

Advocating for “a new era in relations,” the two leaders signed several agreements on diplomatic cooperation in the region and an increase in trade mounting to 15 billion dollars per year, amid intensified international efforts to broker a new truce between Israel and Hamas.

“Egypt is currently Turkey’s top trading partner in Africa,” Sisi said in a press conference with Erdogan in Cairo, as quoted by Egypt Today Magazine, during which Erdogan denounced “the policy of occupation and massacres of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu,” additionally calling on the international community “not to let such madness that will lead to genocide happen,” in reference to the imminent Israeli invasion of Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. Sisi, on the other hand, criticized Israel for “the obstacles that slow down the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

A political analysis conducted by Middle East Eye showed how Turkey-Egypt relations are of critical importance not only for the two powers, but also for the region, as war-torn countries like Sudan, Ethiopia and Libya have been backed by Cairo and Ankara on opposing sides. Therefore, the recent rapprochement must be evaluated as part of broader changing circumstances, especially for Turkey, as the normalization drive with regional powers is part of the foreign policy goals of the May-elected government and its new Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan. For example, as part of its post-elections foreign policy, Turkey has finally ratified Sweden’s accession bid to Nato, agreed with the US on the sale of F-16 warplanes, held bilateral talks with Greece and Iraq, and consolidated its relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 


What We’re Reading

More than a new haircut: Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail wrote for NOW an exploration of prominent Sunni leader Saad Hariri’s potential return to politics – as well as its impact on sectarian power shifts, economic reform, and Lebanon’s complex interplay with regional politics.


Starving prisons: NOW’s Valeria Rando interviewed human rights lawyer Mohamad Sablouh and photographer Haitham Moussawi to tackle the topic of Lebanese prisons’ worsening conditions, especially regarding food provision and the economic crisis’ impact on statal services provided – denouncing judicial paralysis, chronic overcrowding and alarmingly rising risk of starvation.


Lebanon +

A collective action taking place on global media, a network of physical locations – including Beirut -, independent media, mainly radio, and groups of individuals has been established, between Sunday and Monday, with one unified objective: to support the Palestinian people and to open a space to share and make heard the various tactics deployed by different groups in their respective locations. Reverberating across numerous time zones and corners of the world, the plurilingual programme 24hrs/Palestine brought together a chorus of voices united in their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Over the course of 24 hours, radio broadcasters gathered in physical spaces and on the airwaves with the aim of hearing from people all over the world about the necessities and possibilities of anti-colonial solidarity from local perspectives. Beginninginning on Sunday, February 18, in Palestine, the broadcast reached listeners all over the globe, from Santiago to Algiers, Nouméa to Helsinki, Casablanca to Kampala, Beirut to Montreal, Bandung to Paris, Cairo to Tehran, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Cape Town to London and Tunis, as well Ukraine, Sudan, Italy and India, culminating at 12pm on Monday, February 19, again in Palestine. Bringing together a network of independent radio stations, the transmissions were composed of poetry, music, discussion and readings and were aired simultaneously on Radio Alhara, Radio Flouka and others.