Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : War with Israel Would Deepen Lebanon’s Myriad Crises

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
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War with Israel Would Deepen Lebanon’s Myriad Crises

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)

The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel is unfolding against a backdrop of deep financial and political crises in Lebanon, adding to the risks for the fragile country should hostilities spiral into full-blown war.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel have been trading fire since the onset of the Gaza war in October. Both sides say they are prepared for possible escalation as mediators struggle to secure a Gaza ceasefire.

Though the conflict has been relatively contained so far, it is weighing heavily on a country where five years of domestic crises have hollowed out the state.

Here's an overview of Lebanon's troubles:

ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

Lebanon continues to be afflicted by a catastrophic financial collapse which hit the country in 2019.

Caused by decades of profligate spending and corruption by the ruling elite, the meltdown sank the currency, impoverished swathes of people, paralyzed banks, and fueled the biggest wave of emigration since the 1975-90 civil war.

The World Bank has described it as one of the sharpest depressions of modern times. Lebanon's economy shrank from $55 billion in 2018 to $31.7 billion in 2020. The government has yet to enact reforms needed for recovery.

The lingering impact of the crisis was captured in a World Bank report in May which found poverty had more than tripled in Lebanon over the past decade, reaching 44% of the population.

It found that one-in-three Lebanese was poverty stricken in 2022 in five surveyed governorates, including Beirut. While new Beirut restaurants serve the rich, the World Bank report said three out of five households had cut back on food spending.

The International Monetary Fund said in May a lack of action on necessary economic reforms continued to exert a heavy toll on the economy and people. It said there was no credible and financially viable strategy for the banking system.

Tourism and remittances helped the economy find a temporary bottom by 2022 and early 2023, according to the World Bank. Prior to the onset of the Gaza war, the economy was projected to expand slightly in 2023 by 0.2%. But after hostilities began, the forecast changed to a contraction of between 0.6% and 0.9%.

POLITICAL TENSIONS

Lebanon has not had a head of state or a fully empowered cabinet since Michel Aoun's term as president ended on Oct. 31, 202, leaving an unprecedented vacuum.

The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been serving in a caretaker capacity since then. Filling the presidency and installing a fully empowered government requires a deal among Lebanon's deeply divided factions.

On one level, the standoff reflects rivalries among Maronite Christians, for whom the presidency is reserved in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

On another, it reflects a power struggle between the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah party - which propelled its ally Aoun to the presidency in 2016 - and opponents who have long opposed the group's possession of arms and say it has unilaterally embroiled Lebanon in conflict again.

With politicians showing no compromise in the tussle over state power, a compromise on the presidency may demand the type of foreign mediation that has saved Lebanon from previous such standoffs.

SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS

Thirteen years since Syria's conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: about 1.5 million Syrians - half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR - in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.

Funding for the Syria crisis is dropping, reflecting fatigue among donors grappling with other conflicts around the world.

Despite their differences, parties from across Lebanon's political spectrum agree the Syrians should be sent home.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)

Former President Donald Trump on Monday chose US Sen. JD Vance of Ohio to be his running mate as he looks to return to the White House.

Here are some things to know about Vance, a 39-year-old Republican now in his first term in the Senate:

Vance rose to prominence with his memoir

Vance was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio. He joined the Marines and served in Iraq, and later earned degrees from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. He also worked as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

Vance made a name for himself with his memoir, the 2016 bestseller "Hillbilly Elegy," which was published as Trump was first running for president. The book earned Vance a reputation as someone who could help explain the maverick New York businessman’s appeal in middle America, especially among the working class, rural white voters who helped Trump win the presidency.

"Hillbilly Elegy" also introduced Vance to the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. loved the book and knew of Vance when he went to launch his political career. The two hit it off and have remained friends.

He was first elected to public office in 2022

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Vance returned to his native Ohio and set up an anti-opioid charity. He also took to the lecture circuit and was a favored guest at Republican Lincoln Day dinners where his personal story — including the hardship Vance endured because of his mother’s drug addiction — resonated.

Vance's appearances were opportunities to sell his ideas for fixing the country and helped lay the groundwork for entering politics in 2021, when he sought the Senate seat vacated by Republican Rob Portman, who retired.

Trump endorsed Vance. Vance went on to win a crowded Republican primary and the general election.

He and Trump have personal chemistry

Personal relationships are extremely important to the former president and he and Vance have developed a strong rapport over years, speaking on the phone regularly.

Trump has also complimented Vance’s beard, saying he "looks like a young Abraham Lincoln."

Vance went from never-Trumper to fierce ally

Vance was a "never Trump" Republican in 2016. He called Trump "dangerous" and "unfit" for office. Vance, whose wife, lawyer Usha Chilukuri Vance, is Indian American and the mother of their three children, also criticized Trump’s racist rhetoric, saying he could be "America’s Hitler."

But by the time Vance met Trump in 2021, he had reversed his opinion, citing Trump’s accomplishments as president. Both men downplayed Vance's past scathing criticism.

Once elected, Vance became a fierce Trump ally on Capitol Hill, unceasingly defending Trump’s policies and behavior.

He is a leading conservative voice

Kevin Roberts, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, called Vance a leading voice for the conservative movement, on key issues including a shift away from interventionist foreign policy, free market economics and "American culture writ large."

Democrats call him an extremist, citing provocative positions Vance has taken but sometimes later amended. Vance signaled support for a national 15-week abortion ban during his Senate run, for instance, then softened that stance once Ohio voters overwhelmingly backed a 2023 abortion rights amendment.

Vance has adopted Trump's rhetoric about Jan. 6

On the 2020 election, he said he wouldn't have certified the results immediately if he had been vice president and said Trump had "a very legitimate grievance." He has put conditions on honoring the results of the 2024 election that echo Trump's. A litany of government and outside investigations have not found any election fraud that could have swung the outcome of Trump's 2020 loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.

In the Senate, Vance sometimes embraces bipartisanship. He and Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown co-sponsored a railway safety bill following a fiery train derailment in the Ohio village of East Palestine. He's sponsored legislation extending and increasing funding for Great Lakes restoration, and supported bipartisan legislation boosting workers and families.

Vance can articulate Trump's vision

People familiar with the vice presidential vetting process said Vance would bring to the GOP ticket debating skills and the ability to articulate Trump’s vision.

Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative activist group Turning Point USA, said Vance compellingly articulates the America First world view and could help Trump in states he closely lost in 2020, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, that share Ohio’s values, demographics and economy.