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The Face Of The Airport; The Face Of A Nation

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia, October 2

Earlier this week, the American news channel Fox News reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards made use of the Rafik al-Hariri International Airport to smuggle weapons and money to Hizbullah. The report identified two unusual flights on the Damascus-Beirut route that had been carried out by a fake Iranian airline flying on behalf of the Quds Force. The U.S. channel further provided locations and timetables of the suspicious flights. So far, the Lebanese Directorate of Civil Aviation confirmed the existence of these flights, but denied the claim that they were used to transport munitions. Fox News, however, wasn’t alone in making this claim. In the last week of September, during his speech to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel had accumulated evidence showing that Iran is helping Hizbullah develop accurate missiles pointed at Israeli towns and cities. Netanyahu presented photos of the locations in which these missiles are supposedly stored and noted their curiously close proximity to Beirut’s international airport. It is obviously impossible to validate the Israeli accusations, just as it is impossible to trust Hizbullah’s narrative. Yet we now know that Hizbullah spent years building up an arsenal akin to that of a conventional army. It violated the sovereignty of Lebanon, and continues to do so to this very day. The Rafik al-Hariri International Airport has been particularly important to Hizbullah in recent years, as the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon grew more difficult. Israeli air raids have de facto stopped the transfer of munitions from Syria into Lebanon. Similarly, UN Resolution 1701, which was passed in the aftermath of the July 2006 war, provided international peacekeepers with authority over Lebanon’s security waters. With both the land and sea paths blocked, Hizbullah has been ramping up its smuggling operations via the air. It is only ironic that Beirut’s airport—the same one Israel attacked in 1968 and, later, in 1982, is again becoming the centerpiece of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. When the late Rafik al-Hariri entered office and began investing resources in improving Lebanon’s infrastructure, he viewed Beirut’s international airport as a gateway to modernity and development. Today, it is a decrepit airport that, other than being unsuitable for passengers, is also a base for Hizbullah’s military buildup. It is a reflection of Lebanese society: a reminder of what we once strived to be, and what we’ve actually become. –Nadeem Qatish

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