Patriarch al-Rahi against Hezbollah, waiting for Iranian minister in Beirut
Iran’s foreign minister is expected in the Lebanese capital on Thursday. The unexpected visit has no official schedule; meanwhile, the Shia party continues its attacks on Lebanese sovereignty. The cardinal slams the “Meddling with justice” and the investigation into the double explosion at the Port of Beirut.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi on Sunday spoke out again against Hezbollah, a few days before an unplanned visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Beirut on Thursday.
The unexpected visit, which had not yet been announced on Monday, comes in a political context marked by repeated attacks on Lebanese sovereignty by the Shia party, which included recent Iranian fuel imports into Lebanese territory through illegal channels controlled militarily by the party itself.
“Lebanon needs to free itself from deceivers and liars who exploit the goodness of the population through their honeyed speeches, engaging in corruption and embezzling public funds while the state collapses,” the patriarch said in his Sunday homily, at the risk of making personal enemies within Hezbollah.
“Lebanon,” said the head of the Maronite Church, “can no longer continue to cut corners and reconcile law and lawlessness, sovereignty and subordination, murderer and victim.”
“The country's Arab and international friends expect a clear policy, far from detestable duplicity, to support its economic and financial recovery.
“We cannot pretend to preserve Lebanese sovereignty while leaving illegal transit routes open, or not answer or react to odd positions that are detrimental to [the country’s] sovereignty.
“One cannot support legality and tolerate the presence of (illegal) weapons and contempt for institutions through the constitution of an army dependent on a foreign state, as a senior official of that state [recently] admitted,” Patriarch Al-Rahi explained.
The “admission” the head of the Maronite Church cited refers to a statement made a few days ago by Gholam Ali Rashid, a senior Pasdaran (IRGC[*]) official, who boasted that Tehran has set up six armies (outside its territory) to defend its interests, namely Hezbollah (Lebanon), al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraq), Houthis (Yemen), Bashar al-Assad's regime (Syria), and Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Palestine).
It should be noted that the visit by Iran’s chief diplomat coincides with the renewal of Saudi disengagement in Lebanon, which is set to last, as evinced by a telephone conversation last Thursday between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The kingdom’s strongman apparently told his interlocutor that Saudi Arabia’s position towards Lebanon will remain the same as long as the country is subordinated to Hezbollah.
We also know that the formation of the Mikati government, after 13 months of deadlock, was made possible by Franco-Iranian rapprochement, highlighted most notably by a telephone conversation on 5 September between Emmanuel Macron and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Al-Rahissi.
In such a context, the visit by the Iranian foreign minister in Beirut raises several questions about the positions that Lebanese officials plan to take vis-à-vis their guest, particularly in terms of foreign policy, but also with regard to Iranian fuel imports to Lebanon.
The affair quickly discredited the Mikati government since it did not elicit any official reaction among top government officials, even just a formal one, except for some complaints by the prime minister on CNN.
In his interview with the US news channel, Nagib Mikati simply said that he was "saddened" by the violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and fuel imports from Iran.
For his part, the Maronite Patriarch on Sunday also called for an end to political interference in the investigation into the double explosion at the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020.
He was referring to an infamous and suspicious visit by Wafiq Safa, a senior Hezbollah security official to the Palais de Justice, where he indirectly warned Mr Bitar, through some journalists present, that Hezbollah can “oust” him if he intends to question Shia party officials.
No official dared open his mouth after such blatant interference by Hezbollah in the judicial process.
“Meddling with justice has direct consequences on the positions of friendly countries towards Lebanon and undermines the prestige of our justice system," the head of the Maronite Church warned on Sunday.
It should be noted in this regard that the Court of Civil Appeal in Beirut on Monday rejected the petitions of “legitimate suspicion” presented by lawmakers Nouhad Machnouk, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaïter against Judge Tarek Bitar, who is in charge of the investigation; as a result, the latter can resume his work, which he had suspended pending the court ruling.
[*] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.