Operating in Lebanon

By David Esler
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

So, it wasn't surprising when a largely religious war ignited in Lebanon in 1975 between a coalition of Christian groups and an alliance made up of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Druze and various Muslim sects. The war raged for 15 years.

The recent Syrian incursion in Lebanon is not the first time, as Syria wasted no time in 1976 sending its troops into Lebanon — ostensibly to maintain order — only a year after the war started. They remained there until 2005, when a provision of the Ta'if Accord, which had ended the civil war in 1990, called for them to withdraw, and Syria observed the decree and retreated behind its borders. The war was hugely destructive to Lebanon, leveling portions of Beirut and killing an estimated 150,000 people. Business and trade essentially stopped during the 15-year period, as did civil air transportation.

Beirut rebounded from the war quickly, fostering a reconstruction building boom, and business slowly revived. But peace and stability were short-lived. Hezbollah, the Iranian-organized and funded terrorist organization whose raison d'etre was to torment Israel and, by extension, the U.S., kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in 2006, precipitating a 34-day skirmish in which Israel conducted a widespread bombing campaign that included cratering all three runways at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport and destroying its fuel farm. More than 1,200 civilians died in this short conflict, which was ended by U.N. resolution the same year.

Once again, reconstruction began. “There has been a dense but targeted reconstruction wave of Lebanon's downtown by the Hariri Group, particularly in the mid- to late 1990s,” Phares said. “That part of the capital has been almost totally renovated. But other parts of Beirut and the suburbs have undergone 'over construction' waves. After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, most destroyed bridges and buildings have been rebuilt.” Beirut International Airport also was repaired and returned to service as quickly as possible to accept tourists and businesspersons.

Other periods of violence have intermittently flared in Lebanon through the decades and to the present day. Hezbollah, which also postures as a political party, runs much of Lebanon outside of Beirut, even providing a variety of social aid and services to rural communities, while a parliamentary government in the capital theoretically maintains control of the country.

The Real Power in Lebanon

Phares identified the players in the terrorism/political power arena. “One is pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and the other is the al Qaeda-linked Jihadi militia. Both groups are armed and anti-Western, particularly anti-U.S. Back in the 1980s, Hezbollah attacked U.S. interests and citizens and took hostages. But since 1990, as it ascended to power in Lebanon, Hezbollah chose not to engage American targets.”

However, in view of the escalating situation in the region, “one has to monitor security developments in Syria and Lebanon to evaluate the Hezbollah risk to Western and U.S. business aviation,” he continued. “For the moment, it would be a calculated risk to fly over all of Lebanon, but using Beirut International Airport for business aviation is within the norms of acceptable risks. However, I would recommend a constant monitoring of the internal situation in the country. As far as al Qaeda-linked groups, they are not omnipresent in and around Beirut airport but in remote areas of the country.”

Banking and tourism are the two biggest industries in Lebanon, along with agriculture, viticulture, cement, mineral and chemical products, textiles, wood and furniture, oil refining and metal fabricating. In 2012, Lebanon's GDP was $63.69 billion, and its growth was hovering at 2%, down from 7% in 2010 as a result of a government collapse in 2011 and the tension from the Syrian war.

The country has five airdromes with paved runways, but four of these are military fields; consequently, everyone goes to Beirut International Airport and travels elsewhere within this small country by car, taking proper caution and protection on the roads. “Some areas are safer than others,” Phares advised. “Depending on the visitors, their nationalities and other factors, Lebanon has different zones with different levels of risks.”

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