We asked Dr. Walid Phares, a Lebanese national, to describe his people.
“Lebanese people in general have been and are hospitable, happy and entrepreneurial. I remember during my own years in Lebanon until 1975 how tourists, artists, and businessmen were welcomed in Lebanon with great joy and excitement. During the 15-years civil war until 1990, however, there were very few Westerners who traveled to Lebanon.
“After the 1990s and because of the Syrian occupation and Hezbollah presence, westerners didn't return in great numbers. Nowadays, the risk is even higher for them to travel and tour Lebanon. The contradiction between the fundamental nature of the Lebanese, as people, to be extremely open and friendly with foreigners, and the threatening terror forces in the country is wide and deep. If Lebanon is freed completely from all armed militias, it will resume as a haven for business and tourism.”
Why is Beirut the only game in town . . . or rather, in Lebanon? “The other airports in the country are either military or otherwise not certified for civil aviation,” answered Ali Al Naqbi, founding chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association, in Dubai. “Consequently, you are restricted from flying to other airports.”
MEBBA has been in active dialogue with the Lebanese government to certify other airports, “but this will be a long process,” Al Naqbi said. “An example is Aliaat in the north, where we are negotiating access for civil aircraft and business aviation, but it's been put on hold because of the war. As it is now, you cannot fly within the country except for arriving and departing at Beirut.”
Other candidates identified by Dr. Walid Phares include: “Rayak Airport, a military base used by the Lebanese Army, is close to the Syrian border, and Hezbollah controls its vicinity. Kleyat Airport north of Tripoli is also used by the Lebanese Army and close to the Syrian border. Hezbollah theoretically has no control over it, but Jihadi militias have been signaled in the area.
“And finally,” Dr. Phares said, “Hamat Airport near Chekka is used by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah again has no control around it; U.S. military aircraft have been known to use this field. It would be the safest airport in Lebanon, but special authorizations for landing must be obtained.”