Our Syriac Aramaic Maronite people in Israel feel that it is about time for the highest Maronite spiritual authority to take a stand against Hezbollah’s atrocities and illegal control of Lebanon. Ever since the 1982 assassination of the great Maronite leader and Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel we have not seen courageous leaders capable of or willing to demand Lebanon’s neutrality.
The recent statement by Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rai came a bit late, but is essential to saving Lebanon from total destruction. Even so, al-Rai’s statement alone is not enough, and must be followed by increasing pressure on Maronite Christian politicians to unite behind a policy of neutrality in Lebanon. And that includes President Michel Aoun, who is currently allied with Hezbollah.
We as Israeli Maronites call on all 12 million Maronites living abroad to strengthen the Patriarch and other courageous Lebanese leaders calling for neutrality, and to encourage them to push for peace with Israel.
This is the only policy that can save the country and all its citizens from economic crises, from wars and from the collapse of Lebanon. This is a policy that will benefit all the religious communities, sects and national groups that make up Lebanon.
But it must be stressed that the Cardinal’s statement lacks one critical component – peace with Israel. Stability and prosperity for Lebanon and its peoples depends on it. We can see that even of late, Maronite leaders do not feel totally free. They still fear the reaction of fanatic Islamists, which is why even when criticizing Hezbollah or other extremists, Christian leaders feel the need to also identify Israel as an enemy. But this is a lie, and they know it. These Christian leaders know deep in their souls that Israel has no intention of harming Lebanon, and has only ever taken military action to protect itself against Islamic extremists using Lebanon as a place from which to attack the Jewish state.
The Syriac Maronite Patriarch has the power to change the equation in Lebanon if he continues to take a firm stand against Hezbollah control of Lebanon and the hijacking of the Cedar nation for Iranian interests. Cardinal Rai is well respected by all Maronites and by many other Christian communities, both in Lebanon and abroad. Many people will listen to his logical request. And that could impact the legitimacy of a Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government, putting the terror group in a very problematic situation.
Beside Christian support, Cardinal Rai’s policy is finding backing among Sunni Muslims, Druze and some of the local Shia Muslims. This is exactly what Hezbollah fears and is trying to prevent.
In the event of another clash with Israel, Hezbollah could this time find itself fighting not only against the IDF, but on several internal fronts, too. This is the power of the Patriarch’s statement, and this is why Hezbollah has yet to carry out the promised revenge over the death of one of its fighters in Syria two weeks ago. They need time to consider all possible scenarios, in particular what an Israeli military response could mean under current circumstances.
Shadi Khalloul serves as chairman of the Aramaic Christian Association in Israel, spokesman for the Christian Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Forum, and is a member of the Syriac Aramaic Maronite Church.