As if it was not enough that Lebanon was facing a financial catastrophe that pushed more people to the brink of poverty. Adding to all the economic repercussions on the country, now the Coronavirus has hit Lebanon with more isolation, closure of what was left of businesses and private sector, and sent people home with very little tools to survive.
As numbers of Covid-19 cases in Lebanon increase, people are grappling with two main concerns but Hassan Diab’s government doesn’t seem to be capable of answering them, or even dealing with the unfolding disasters: First, is Lebanon prepared – medically – to deal with a health crisis that would require more staff and equipment? Second, why was Iran allowed to send flights to Lebanon, thereby leading to the spread of the virus?
Many of those concerned about the Iranian flights are Hezbollah’s own community within the Shia population in Lebanon, who are more exposed to the virus coming straight to them from Iran. In addition to Hezbollah’s failure to fight corruption, implement reforms, or form a government that can save Lebanon, now the “Party of God” is allowing the Coronavirus to come to Lebanon from Iran.
On the other hand, Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt a week before the virus hit Lebanon hard, and Lebanon lacks the financial resources to confront the coronavirus. It is no secret that for a while before this has become a pandemic, most of Lebanon’s hospitals were suffering from a lack of medical supplies including spare parts for the much-needed ventilators.
Add to all this the fact the Lebanese are worried about more job losses and a spike in unemployment rates as many are no longer working, due to both the financial crisis and now the Coronavirus spreading. And in return, Lebanon’s government has not started negotiating with its debtors and lenders, has not come up with a plan to counter the crisis, has not accepted an IMP program yet to bail out the country, and more significantly, has no plan whatsoever to confront the Coronavirus other than forcing people home, with no medical, social and economic aid to ease the suffering.
An Iranian man wearing a mask walks past a mural displaying his national flag in Tehran on March 4, 2020. (Getty)
Until Friday March 13, 2020, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah had said nothing. In fact, he was reportedly busy visiting Tehran and discussing ways to respond to the US presence in Iraq. The Iranian regime and Hezbollah ignored the epidemic – which turned later into a pandemic, and until then, their priorities were on military operations – rather than the Iranian and Lebanese people’s wellbeing.
Many in Lebanon were complaining, including the Shia themselves, about the Iranian flights coming to Lebanon, but Nasrallah said nothing. On Friday, he only asked people to stay home and self-isolate, but did not explain the Iranian flights, although many in Lebanon believed that these flights were not only bringing Lebanese back to Lebanon, but also Iranians infected with the virus to be treated at Hezbollah’s private hospitals such as Al-Rasoul Al-Aazam and Bahman. The fact that the media were not allowed to enter the airport when these flights arrived, indicated that Hezbollah was hiding something, or someone.
The problem for Hezbollah became the Shia community. The Coronavirus exposed Hezbollah and Iran, and uncovered Iran’s weaknesses and incapacity to contain a health crisis of this size.
It is still unclear how bad the health crisis is in Iran. It has become clear that Iran is hiding the real numbers, and that many Iranian officials have died because of the infection. Iran has so far refused to accept the World Health Organization to enter Iran. The regime wants the WHO and the IMF to send money and assistance, but never to step foot in Iran. One reason is the fear of access that such international organizations could have once they are allowed in, but the more significant reason is the fact the regime is afraid that its weaknesses and flaws will be exposed for everyone in the world, including the Shia constituency in the region.
But Iran has been exposed. And as it was being exposed, it still managed to get its militias to attack US presence in Iraq, either in a bid to flex its muscles and show strength in such a difficult time, or because the regime’s priorities are still fixated on the IRGC’s military operations in the region and the presence of US troops in the Middle East.
In any case, Iran’s domestic crisis – financial and health, and Hezbollah’s domestic crisis – financial and heath, are going to jointly unfold into more discontent and disillusionment by the populations – mainly the Shia in the region. Iran was supposed to protect the Shia; not send them to their deaths by negligence and carelessness. Iran was supposed to empower the Shia; not weaken them. And Iran was supposed to give the Shia the victory they paid a heavy price for; not give the death by the hundreds of thousands.
In 1982, the Iranian regime promised the Iranian people that there would be a day when Iran will no longer depend on oil. In 2020, Iran only depends on oil, and with the US sanctions on oil; the Iranian regime is struggling to keep people alive. Since 1982, Iran still depends on oil, hasn’t eliminated Israel from the world’s map, failed to give the Shia power and prosperity, and crashed the economies of all the states it has controlled.
Iran took from Lebanon, from Iraq and from Syria. It took from the people of these countries and from its own people. In return, it only gave chaos, wars and bad economies, as it completely neglected to think of a long-term socio-economic vision for the day when it’s needed. And because of this shortcoming, Iran not only spread the Coronavirus to the countries it controls, it also failed at managing the health crisis.
When all this is over, even if the Iranian regime managed to survive this crisis, for the people of the region, Iran will always be associated with the virus that killed many of their loved ones. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah will - one way or another - be held accountable.