US President Donald Trump has announced plans to extend the national emergency order for Lebanon “beyond August 1, 2020” citing concerns over the strength of Hezbollah in a statement released yesterday.
The extension, according to the statement, is because of “certain ongoing activities”, including Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah, which “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.
Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah, which include “increasingly sophisticated weapons systems”, also compromise Lebanese sovereignty while threatening regional stability, both politically and economically, Trump’s statement said.
The state of national emergency was first declared on 1 August 2007 by then-president George W. Bush, and must be extended on a yearly basis, within 90 days of the anniversary of the executive order.
The order allows the US government to block property belonging to those who are believed to threaten Lebanese sovereignty, democratic processes or institutions.
The extension comes as tensions over Lebanon’s southern border with Israel – a key American ally – have risen in recent weeks. Tensions spiked after the death of a Hezbollah fighter who was stationed in Syria during an Israeli air strike targeting an Iranian-backed ammunition depot last week.
Israel later redeployed soldiers as well as Iron Dome defences to the border areas and carried out a large military exercise in near the northern frontier with Lebanon. The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, has called for both sides to “maintain maximum restraint”.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is suffering from simultaneous economic and political crises, compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic.
The country’s Hezbollah-backed government is facing mounting calls to resign over its failure to make headway in bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or unlock $11 billion in conditional aid pledged at the 2018 CEDRE conference, that could help to float the economy.
The local currency, the Lebanese lira, has lost more than 80 per cent of its value in recent months, while unemployment and the prices of basic goods have soared. In November last year, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Bank estimated that by mid-2020, 50 per cent of Lebanon’s population could be under the poverty line.