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Lebanon Is a Terror Hub

avatar by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner / JNS.org

Opinion

A still image taken from a drone footage shows the damage two days after an explosion in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon, Aug. 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters TV / via Reuters / File.

JNS.orgLegendary American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once stated, “No one can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

Morrow’s warning, while talking about the dangers of McCarthyism, sounds prophetic for the tragedy unfolding in today’s Lebanon. The government in Beirut is an accomplice to Hezbollah’s terrorizing of an entire nation. The Shiite Party of God has used the barrel of a gun, the bomb, and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to take over the entire country.

Hezbollah’s malignant hand touches every facet of life in Lebanon — from the banking system to the courts — and it has left the nation’s infrastructure economy teetering on collapse, endangering everyone who lives and visits the country.

Nowhere is the criminal deconstruction of Lebanon more evident than in the case of the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport — the country’s sole international access point for civil aviation named after a Lebanese prime minister who himself was assassinated by Hezbollah.

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In the 1960s and ’70s, the airport was the launching pad for some of the world’s most notorious airline hijackings and terrorist operations. In the 1980s, Hezbollah terrorists blew up aircraft on the tarmac; they hijacked American airliners, and murdered the hostages they seized.

Beirut airport, located in the southwest part of the Lebanese capital, is adjacent to the slums and refugee camps that are Hezbollah’s historic stronghold. Hezbollah uses the airport as its own — skirting border controls and security protocols to ferry people, weapons, and other forbidden items into Lebanon.

In June 2018, The Washington Post reported that Hezbollah’s takeover of the airport is so rampant that the organization moves weapons and drugs, in addition to pro-Iranian fighters, to other countries, without any consequences. Hezbollah allows the IRGC to use the airport as a base for Iranian regime operations against Western interests.

Hezbollah views the airport as a safe bet for its weapons storage, hoping that Israel or any other country that might need to act against the terror group will be reticent to strike a nation’s sole aviation access point, even though, according to international humanitarian law, the dual-use of an airport for both civilian and military purposes renders it a legitimate military objective.

In stark violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Hezbollah has obtained an arsenal of hundreds of thousands of rockets and other weapons, making it today the most powerful non-state actor in the world. Many of the launchers are hidden inside population centers within a few yards of the airport terminal. According to a recent report in Eurasia Review, a Hezbollah missile factory is located underneath a nearby soccer field, and a “Fateh 110” missile launch site is located near the runway.

One only need to look at the August 4 explosion at the Port of Beirut — a blast caused by incompetence, corruption, negligence, and Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon’s infrastructure — as a harbinger of catastrophic destruction on a massive scale. Hundreds were killed, billions of dollars of damage was incurred, and a good part of the city was destroyed as a result of the massive detonation.  Only a month later, a huge blast ripped through a housing area in southern Lebanon, caused by Hezbollah munitions hidden in buildings that were ignited.

International powers have been unsuccessful in thwarting Hezbollah. But perhaps US law, and the prospect of criminal and civil liability for the foreign airlines that negligently and recklessly endanger the lives of their passengers by flying them into the airport, might be a game-changer.

In 2019 alone, before the COVID-19 pandemic crippled civil aviation, the airport handled close to nine million passengers. It is the hub for Middle Eastern Airlines, Lebanon’s flag carrier. Eighteen other international airlines, including Emirates, Air France, Alitalia, and Lufthansa, fly in and out of Beirut, and those carriers — knowing Hezbollah’s control of the airport and its surrounding areas — place their passengers and their planes in direct peril.

Hezbollah is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, by numerous countries around the world, including the United States. Under provisions of Chapter 113B of Title 18 of the US Code (18 U.S.C. §§ 2331-2339D), it is a Federal crime for an individual or a corporation to provide “material support or resources” to a designated FTO such as Hezbollah — material support or resources is broadly defined to include any type of service, personnel, and transportation. In 2018, the US Congress passed the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act, focusing on Hezbollah and Hamas’ illicit use of this tactic. By operating routes to Beirut’s airport, one is knowingly flying passengers and crew into a hub of terror activity.

Lebanon, teetering on bankruptcy, desperately needs the foreign revenue that business, expatriate, and tourist travel brings to the country. Perhaps by pressuring the airlines and telling them that they face substantial civil and criminal exposure to legal action courtesy of American counter-terrorism laws, this will force the carriers to pressure the Lebanese government to once and for all eradicate Hezbollah’s control of their country.

The Shurat HaDin Law Center has taken an active role in attempting to stop Hezbollah from utilizing the airport and its passengers as human shields of its rockets and weapons.

To do nothing, as Edward R. Murrow warned, makes anyone facilitating travel through the airport an accomplice to terror.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli lawyer and the president of the Shurat HaDin Law Center. Her best-selling book Harpoon: The Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters, co-authored with Samuel Katz, has just been released in Hebrew.

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