The Lebanese ruling establishment’s actions during Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza’s recent trip to Lebanon have once again proven its disregard for the crumbling economy. President Michel Aoun seems to be on a campaign to invite US sanctions on the country. Over the last few years, he has acquired a knack for stepping in the path of danger while praying for the best.
Arreaza met with Aoun and his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. His Beirut stop, part of an international tour which included Turkey, primarily aims to muster international support for the ailing regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose corrupt rule and years of western sanctions have led one of the richest Latin American countries to poverty and starvation.
Arreaza, who is married to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s daughter, seemed unfazed by the fact that over 90 percent of his countrymen live in poverty or that over two-thirds are suffering from food shortage. He checked into an upscale Beirut hotel and used his two-day trip to whitewash his regime's image.
Venezuela’s top diplomats declared that the purpose of the visit was to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries as well as the conditions back home. However, Arreaza’s real intention was to deliver a message to the international community, and specifically to US President Donald Trump’s administration, that Lebanon falls within the sphere of Iran-Maduro axis. Arreaza’s visit was also an occasion for some archaic anti-western Lebanese factions – who front for Hezbollah and Syria – to show solidarity with “the Venezuelan people.”
Iran-Venezuela ties date back to the presidency of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez, and the two countries have since developed common ill feelings toward the US. Iran has continued its support for Venezuela since power passed from Chávez to Maduro in 2013.
So it is not surprising that Iran and Maduro are making this desperate attempt to flex their muscles. Yet what remains ambiguous is why Aoun, who says he has Lebanon’s interests in mind, would partake in this instigation of the international community. The reason could be his claim that Hezbollah, whom he repeatedly defends, comprises the majority of the Lebanese Shiites, and that the sanctions against Iran are not consensual as many European countries refuse to implement them.
But the fact is that the Trump administration has imposed economic sanctions against Maduro’s allies for blocking humanitarian aid, with the full backing of over 65 countries. These include dozens of European Union nations, which have recognized speaker of parliament Juan Guaido, who leads a popular opposition, as interim president. So however Aoun and his allies wish to spin it, Lebanon has little to profit from allowing this anti-western charade to take place.
On the other hand, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s refusal to meet with Arreaza showed sound judgment on his part, as such a meeting would have placed more pressure on Lebanon from its Arab neighbors and suggested that Hariri’s commitment to Lebanon’s disassociation policy is a farce.
If Aoun were the dedicated leader he claims to be, he would avoid further implicating Lebanon in the US-Iran fistfight – one in which the Lebanese and their economy will be collateral damage. Arreaza could have been given audience with only his Lebanese counterpart Bassil. Alternatively, since Aoun insisted on meeting him, he could have issued a statement highlighting Lebanon’s continued commitment to its disassociation policy.
Clearly, Aoun and his allies are fully aware of the implications of their continued lobbying for the Iran axis, a policy that alienates Lebanon and makes the possibility of its economic resurgence virtually impossible.
As long as the Lebanese allow for this reckless policy to persist, they have nothing to look forward to except a full economic collapse. Instead of the Cedre Conference economic stimulus, they will be left with the “Aoun Diet,” which like its Venezuelan equivalent, is both unhealthy and above all fatal.