War and peace

Of the maritime border, US Aid, increased murders and suicides, a brutal murder of a pregnant woman in Tripoli, a Lebanese official visits Syria, Mikati and Aoun meet to discuss cabinet formation, increasing gas prices, another collapsed silo, Riad Salameh’s trial suspended again, the targeting of human rights groups in the West Bank, the UAE’s diplomacy, the ninth anniversery of the Ghouta chemical attack, the Iran deal, a landslide in Iraq, and fighting in Yemen. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Lebanese protesters take part in a demonstration at the Lebanese southernmost border area of Naqoura, on June 11, 2022, days after Israel moved a gas production vessel into an offshore field, a part of which is claimed by Lebanon. Israel urged Lebanon to speed up negotiations on its disputed maritime border ahead of an expected visit to Beirut by the US mediator in the contentious talks. Photo: Mahmoud Zayyat, AFP

As tensions along Lebanon’s southern border escalate, everyone must hope that a confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel is avoided.

In the last month, many have been saying that a war is coming, and considering Israel’s recent actions in Gaza, it is preparing to respond if Hezbollah attacks the Karish gas field, which it has threatened to do if a deal regarding Lebanon and Israel’s maritime border is not reached.

It is important to remember that though Israel’s strikes on Gaza are more frequent and more often in the news, it is Hezbollah that is Israel’s biggest threat militarily.

Israel can manage Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, as their military capabilities are highly constrained due to the embargo, but Hezbollah can field a professional army that is well-trained and well-equipped, thanks to Iran.

Israel has likely learned from its past forays in Lebanon that a ground war is not an option, but that does not exclude what could be a destructive air campaign against Hezbollah’s positions in the south, the southern suburbs of Beirut, and the Beqaa.

In recent weeks, both sides have made serious threats against the other, and the situation could easily explode if an agreement is not reached.

Until then, the people of Lebanon may have to hold their breath.

In Lebanon

Close to the end: Thankfully, however, it looks like a deal between Israel and Lebanon regarding their shared maritime border may be coming soon.

Israel has reportedly accepted Lebanon’s border demands, but in return it wants certain guarantees regarding Hezbollah’s military posture.

Such an agreement would likely give Lebanon Line 23 and the Qana gas field, but Israel is demanding that Hezbollah does not attack the Karish field, which Hezbollah has threatened to strike in recent months.

Though nothing has been set in stone, hopefully, such an agreement can avoid military escalation.

I wrote about the topic a few months ago, which can give some background to the current negotiations.

More aid: The US Embassy in Lebanon released a statement on August 16 that it would provide Lebanon with $29.5 million “as part of new commitments from the United States to respond to the global food crisis.”

The aid package would consist of “$15 million in humanitarian assistance and $14.5 million in economic support funding, to help protect vulnerable populations from rising food insecurity in Lebanon.”

Over 300,000 Lebanese will reportedly receive food assistance.

Unending misery: According to recent data, Lebanon has seen an 18%  increase in murders and almost an 8% increase in suicides in 2022 so far, compared to the same period last year.

However, though misery via murder and suicide has trended up, thefts have trended down.

Violence against women has also trended up.

Unfortunately, besides the decrease in theft, none of these trends are really surprising, as economic devastation has fueled a range of social pathologies within Lebanese society.

Continued disasters over the past three years have pushed the Lebanese people to breaking point.

A brutal murder: A five-month pregnant woman who was allegedly set on fire by her husband succumbed to her injuries last week after 11 days in a Tripoli hospital.

The victim, 21-year-old Hana Khodor, was set on fire by her husband because she refused to get an abortion. The husband has been arrested, but he has not been identified.

One hundred percent of Khodor’s body was burned, which essentially has a 0% survival rate.

Khodor leaves behind two children, who will now likely grow up without either of their parents.

NOW’s Dana Hourany wrote about attacks on women in Lebanon and the wider Middle East last month.

A long road: Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun met in Baabda last week to discuss the formation of a cabinet, a process that has a history of taking an extended amount of time.

Negotiations began in June and some progress has been made since then, but a formalized cabinet has yet to be agreed upon. The last time Lebanon had to form a government it took over a year.

Current reports indicate that the new cabinet would be pretty similar to the current one, with the exception of caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad, caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, caretaker Minister for the Displaced Issam Charafeddine and caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam.

More normalization: Caretaker Minister of the Displaced, Issam Charafeddine, visited Syria last Monday, August 15, accompanied by a Lebanese Democratic Party delegation, meeting Syrian government officials to discuss the return of refugees.

Though many in Lebanon, from all ends of the political spectrum, have said in recent months that Syrians in Lebanon should return to Syria, the country is still highly unstable, with the war raging in the north and insurgencies simmering in the desert and the south of the country.

In addition to security instability, human rights groups have reported that Syrians who have returned to Syria faced grave human rights abuses, such as arbitrary detention, torture, and forced conscription.

I covered the issue last month.

Gas prices: The central bank continues to reduce its financing of fuel imports as gas prices increase.

Fuel import companies were told that the percentage of dollars provided for fuel imports will be reduced through the Sayrafa rate to 55% of the total value, with the remaining 45% to be purchased from the parallel market. 

Some companies have already curtailed distribution until the final prices are officially announced.

Another one down: Another section of the Beirut port silos collapsed late Sunday night, as fires continue to wreak havoc on their structural integrity.

The fires began earlier in the summer and have raged on since then. The first section of silos collapsed in July and then again on August 4, the second anniversary of the 2022 Beirut port blast that destroyed a large area of the city.

Officials have said that they have tried to put the fires out, but little to no progress has been made as the fires continue to burn.

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian is set to propose four draft bills on Monday, August 22, to protect the investigation into the port blast.

However, previous attempts to conduct investigations have yielded no results, as political factions continue to interfere.

Salameh’s trial updates: The investigation into Riad Salameh was again suspended last week after he submitted a request before the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation against the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal, Judge Ziad Abu Haidar.

Though pressure has continued to mount against Salameh, little has been achieved, as Lebanon’s judicial system is known to be inefficient and corrupt.

Salameh is accused of embezzlement, falsification, the use of forged documents, money laundering, illicit enrichment, and tax evasion.

President Michel Aoun again showed his support for the investigation on Tuesday.

Though many believe that Salameh is guilty, the investigation against him has been criticized for being overly partisan.

In the region

Human rights in the West Bank: Israeli authorities raided the offices of a number of prominent Palestinian civil society organizations in the West Bank last week, seizing documents, printers, and computers, welding the doors shut, and issuing closure orders against the organizations.

Last year Israel banned these same groups, designating them terrorist organizations with little evidence.

The raids come as violence in the West Bank and Gaza has seen an uptick since the spring, with multiple attacks in Israel, military operations in the West Bank, and a weekend-long confrontation with Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza earlier this month.

The UAE’s diplomatic shift: The UAE has decided to return its ambassador to Iran, Saif Mohammed Al Zaabi, to Tehran “in coming days,” after more than six years since the Gulf state downgraded ties with the Islamic Republic.

The UAE began to re-engage with Tehran in 2019, as regional tensions have somewhat cooled in recent years.

There has been some hope that an understanding may ease regional conflicts and lead to some sense of stability in a region that has been rocked by wars and political crises over the past decade.

In addition to this development, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Cyprus, are set to participate in war games hosted by Egypt.

Observers from the US, Jordan, Bahrain, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are all expected to attend the exercises.

The military drills come as gas in the Eastern Mediterranean becomes a more pressing geopolitical topic, with Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus worried about encroachment from Turkey.

Nine years since Ghouta: Sunday, August 21, marked the ninth anniversary of the Ghouta chemical attack that killed around 1500 people in the Damascus suburbs.

The attack, widely believed to be perpetrated by the Syrian government, was the first confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.

A few months after the Syrian army began its siege of Eastern Ghouta, a large portion of the eastern Damascus countryside, it deployed chemical weapons to cripple the area’s defenders and spread fear among the civilian population.

Even after nine years, no accountability or justice has been brought, as the Assad regime has managed to maintain control of Syria with Russian and Iranian assistance.

The Ghouta attack was one of the worst uses of chemical weapons in recent memory, coming 25 years after the Halabja chemical attack, which occurred in the final days of the Iran-Iraq War.

And now, after nine years, many countries, both in the region and internationally, have begun to accept that Bashar al-Assad is here to stay and have started a process of normalization with his regime.

Indeed, the regime’s crimes continue, as the city of al-Bab was struck with missiles last week, killing at least 14 civilians and injuring 35. The missiles were fired from areas jointly controlled by the Syrian army and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

As I wrote in May, justice in Syria will not prevail until the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria and the fall of the Assad regime.

Iran deal: A deal between Iran and the US regarding Tehran’s nuclear program seems closer than ever, as analysts and negotiators indicate that an agreement may come soon.

Negotiations have been a priority for US President Joe Biden since he came to office in 2021, as his administration seeks to, at least partially, disengage from the Middle East.

The deal, which was signed under the Obama administration, was thrown out in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, who viewed Iran as an existential threat to US security interests in the region.

Biden has a different view of things, and he would rather make a deal that could possibly subdue Iran’s ambitions than maintain pressure on the Islamic Republic.

It is also in his administration’s interest to present a deal to the US public, which has grown increasingly skeptical of Biden and his foreign and domestic policy.

Iraqi landslide: A landslide on Saturday, August 2o, in the Iraqi province of Karbala killed at least four people and destroyed the Qattarat al-Imam Ali shrine, which is sacred to Shiite Muslims.

Six survivors were pulled from the rubble, with the rescue workers continuing their efforts.

The Iraqi Civil Defense said the landslide was caused by increased humidity as Iraq has been hit by a searing heat wave this summer.

The disaster also comes as concerns regarding climate change have begun to raise serious alarms, especially in Iraq, which is highly susceptible to climate change and social instability.

The truce holds, fighting continues: Though the truce between the Iran-backed Houthis and the Saudi and UAE-backed Yemeni government has largely held since it was put in place in April, fighting erupted between UAE-backed forces and the Islah party in the oil-rich Shabwa region.

Islah, which was founded as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, was an essential part of the Saudi-backed coalition against the Houthis, but has lost relevance in recent years.

Fighting between Islah and the UAE-backed Giant’s Brigade began two weeks ago, with the Giant’s Brigade routing Islah quickly and continuing to advance since then.

What we’re reading

An uphill battle: As human rights organizations call for the release of prominent Kenyan activist ‘NM,’ who is facing deportation, fears of further crackdown on activists looms over the country’s neglected migrant domestic workers community. NOW’s Dana Hourany investigated the case.

A quiet war: Southern Syria has seen a serious uptick in violence in the last month, with clashes erupting in the Daraa countryside and skirmishes taking place in neighboring Suwayda, as Iran and the Syrian government try to improve their hand in the area. I looked into the topic and covered the situation in southern Syria.

The difference between words and actions: Much of the conversation regarding Hezbollah and its allies revolves around ideology, but a quick look at the group’s political activities, policies, and “street” movements makes clear that it is either dishonest or incompetent, writes Gino Raidy.

A brutal legacy: Ali Haydar, who recently died at the age of 90, was one of the architects of the Assad regime’s notorious security apparatus, but his legacy has largely been overlooked outside of Syria. New Lines released a thought-provoking reflection on how he shaped the Assad family’s Syria.


Podcasts: Ronnie Chatah talks threats against journalists and politics in the latest episode of the Beirut Banyan. This week, Chatah spoke with Gino Raidy about Lebanon’s media and political landscape.

Until next week, follow NOW Lebanon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. And stay safe.