Since 1958, the Irish Defence Forces have had a continuous presence in peace support operations all around the world. Irish peacekeeping troops have been in south Lebanon since 1978. Irish people can be rightly proud of the role their soldiers have played in Lebanon which has gone far beyond maintaining the peace and includes assisting local people and maintaining very positive relations with them. Thirty thousand Irish military personnel have served there.
Following the enormous explosion in Beirut port on August 4th last which was felt as far away as Cyprus, the Irish government issued a statement expressing sympathy and support for the victims and referring to Ireland’s long relationship with and involvement in Lebanon. Along with medical aid sent in response to the disaster, Ireland has provided over €3.5 million in humanitarian funding to Lebanon this year, and over €30 million since 2014.
Writing in The Journal last weekend, Ivor Roberts – a former UK ambassador to Ireland but now an Irish citizen – refers to another way in which Ireland can assist the Lebanese people: by using its seat on the UN Security Council during the 2021-22 term to urge the international community to take a stronger stance against Hezbollah.
Ireland toes the official European Union line that while the military wing of Hezbollah is a terrorist group, the political wing isn’t. However, not even Hezbollah leaders accept the distinction. Naim Qassem – Hezbollah’s second-in-command – dismisses talk of a political and military split. In an interview with an American reporter, he said “Hezbollah has a single leadership. All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership. The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel“.
Following the August 4th explosion, the terrorist organisation has faced a huge backlash from ordinary Lebanese who are fed-up with how it has done so much to undermine the stability of their country. It is widely acknowledged that Hezbollah is more powerful than the Lebanese Army and could drag the country as a whole into a war whether the government in Beirut agreed to it or not.
It is well recognised that Hezbollah’s main role in Lebanon is to push Iran’s agenda and that they’re effectively a fifth column controlled from Tehran. In that regard, they’re happy to use their forces to attack peaceful protesters demonstrating against corruption and calling for reform. In such a situation, it’s difficult to see how Lebanon can achieve any form of progress – never mind stability.
The Lebanese nation needs more than well-meaning statements of support and solidarity. Ireland must use its seat on the UNSC to stand with the protesters in Beirut and articulate the frustrations and fears they have about Hezbollah and the future survival of their country. If Hezbollah is allowed to continue to undermine Lebanon, the collapse of the state won’t just be felt in Cyprus but all across Europe.
by Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh