Massive civilian protests in Lebanon are shaking up the delicate balance in the region. With a history as a majority Christian country and once labeled the “the Paris of the Middle East,” Lebanon’s future can take many forms, including a return to its former glory as a partner in the building of the Temple.
A government decision to tax the smartphone app Whatsapp was the spark that set off civil unrest across Lebanon last Thursday. The nationwide protests led several high-ranking government officials to resign amid accusations of corruption. The Christian party Lebanese forces announced early Sunday that they were leaving the Saad Hariri government. The government also responded with sweeping reforms including a revised budget, slashing government salaries in an effort to curb corruption. All these changes failed to assuage the anger of protesters who took to the streets again on Tuesday.
Professor Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, emphasized that the real cause of the protests is a mix of civil woes.
“Of course, a tax on a cell-phone app is not what set off the civil unrest,” Dr. Kedar said. “It is the result of accumulating factors. The presence of Hezbollah as an arm of Iran represents an ongoing and constant threat to the nation of Lebanon. The economic situation surely contributes to the civil unrest. Part of the economic problem is due to Syrian refugees that have swamped the country and the economy cannot cope.”
“But perhaps chief among the factors is the corruption in the government. Many of the officials who live on a salary are, in fact, millionaires. What they would like to do is take their money and run but the protests are preventing this.”
“Theoretically, Lebanon was established with a Christian hegemony,” Dr. Kedar said. “But Hezbollah as a branch of Shiite Iran has taken control. Christians have been fleeing the counry for some time. At this point, the Shiite population in Lebanon is the majority. Most Lebanese are sick of religious conflict. The protesters are waving Lebanese flags. They want to be Lebanese.”
“Iran needs Lebanon to form a land bridge to the Mediterranean. Iran has been telling them that Israel and the U.S. are to blame for all the problems. The people are no longer willing to accept this. ”
The resilience & humor of the Lebanese people has limits. They’ve had enough of corrupt feudalists calling themselves “politicians.” What the #lebanonprotest is calling for is real change & an end to corruption, sectarianism, & dysfunctional government. https://t.co/CUGBDPJA8r
— James J. Zogby (@jjz1600) October 21, 2019
Rabbi Ken Spiro, a historian and Senior Lecturer and Researcher for Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, noted that religion is certainly playing a role in the unrest in Lebanon.
“Lebanon is a mix of religions; Druze, Maronites, Shiite Muslims, and many others,” Rabbi Spiro said. “But when England and France pulled out of the region, Lebanon was supposed to be the Arab Christian country in the Middle East. The oldest Christian communities are in the Middle East and they are also the most endangered minorities in the world.”
In 1932, 54 percent of the country was Christian and 44 percent Muslim. Recent census show that this balance has shifted, with 44 percent of Lebanese identifying as Christian and 54 percent Muslim (equally divided between Shiite and Sunni).
“But Christians are being targeted by Islamists and are the most ethnically endangered group today,” Rabbi Spiro said. “This should be a major concern to the West but it is not being treated that way.”
“This was exacerbated when the Palestinian Liberation Organization invaded Lebanon in 1975, destabilizing the religious balance. The PLO used Lebanon as a launching pad for attacks against Israel. Israel was welcomed in when they went into Lebanon in 1982 to clean out the PLO.”
“Lebanon never really recovered and Hezbollah is really calling the shots in Lebanon today. Lebanon is being held captive by Hezbollah and is not independent anymore. It is being run, militarily, politically, and economically, by Iran. Eventually, there will probably be a war between Hezbollah and Israel, and Lebanon will pay a terrible price for that.”
“Lebanon could have had peace with Israel but the instability allowed Iran to open up another front against Israel,” Rabbi Spiro said. “So many Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are making moves towards Israel. It is an alliance of practicality, not of love. They see Israel as the access to Jews, and Jews as the access to economic and political connections.”
— jules (@juweless) October 18, 2019
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, an American rabbi living in Israel who is a prolific end-of-days author, emphasized that understanding Lebanon, modern and ancient, is necessary to make sense of the current situation and how it impacts Israel.
“Unlike Syria, which was incorporated into ancient Israel, Lebanon, was a separate country that was an ally in building the Temple,” Rabbi Winston pointed out.
The king of Lebanon had peaceful and productive relations with King David that continued into the reign of Solomon, seeing him play a major role in the construction of the First Temple around 100 BCE. Most importantly, King Hiram provided cedar trees which were bound into rafts and floated south to the port of Yaffo. Embroidered linen dyed with Phoenician purple was used in the Holy of Holies. Huram, a Lebanese master craftsman, was commissioned for several major projects in the Temple. The pact between Hiram and Solomon was honored for twenty years.
“Spiritually, Lebanon’s role in the Temple was not coincidental,” Rabbi Winston explained. “The word ‘Lebanon’ comes from the word ‘lavan’ (white). Lebanon needed to play a role in the Temple in order for it to be a mechanism for whitening sins.”
“Come, let us reach an understanding, —says Hashem. Be your sins like crimson, They can turn snow-white; Be they red as dyed wool, They can become like fleece.” Isaiah 1:18
“Like many of Israel’s neighbors, Lebanon can serve as a pin the releases greater forces into conflict,” Rabbi Winston said. “This is especially true for Lebanon which is directly to the north of Israel; the direction specified as the source of the Gog and Magog War.”
“It is essential to watch these events unfold, keeping in mind the end-of-days context. So often, large conflicts explode out of small events that seem irrelevant until they are viewed in a larger context.”
Rabbi Winston referred to the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand which is usually cited as the spark that set of World War I.
“The Vilna Gaon (a prominent 18th century Torah authority) stated that the final conflict before the Messiah will take 12 minutes. It is going to seem like the Messiah suddenly appears, catching most people off-guard and unprepared. In truth, if you watch for the signs, it is clear that we are already in the process leading up to the end-of-days.”
The rabbi compared it to a game of musical chairs.
“People are going to claim that it is unfair, that there was no warning before the Messiah. By the time it becomes clear that the Messiah is happening, it will be too late to do anything about it. Preparation, especially in the form of prayer, is necessary before you even see it happening. Even more, if you look for the signs you will see them in place already in everything that is happening. Even in political events like what is happening in Lebanon.”