It doesn’t take a massive intellect — just common sense — to realize that the link between security and prosperity is inextricable. In the Middle East, one might have thought that experience would have borne this out, and yet many nations still don’t calculate the effects of the increased risk — the “value at risk” in financial jargon — on people’s livelihood.
Take Lebanon, a country famed as much for its business acumen as its knack for self-destruction. In mid-February Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah taunted Israel, threatening a tit-for-tat retaliation if the Zionist state launched a preemptive strike against his party’s armed wing. A week later Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, dared Israel to attack Lebanon. He also promised apocalyptic consequences.
Isn’t it telling, when a foreign leader allows himself to threaten war by proxy? Then again, who can blame him for trying? The same night after Ahmedinejad’s speech, Israeli jets flew over Lebanese airspace without as much as a whimper from the government. The event, a clear violation of international law, only made the “News in Brief” section of the local press, a reaction underlining the risks to Lebanon, its people and its economy.
The fact remains that Lebanon is a country in denial. It does not understand that unless it shakes off the mantle of conflict and instability it will be nothing more than an edgy playground, popular with Gulf tourists who are happy to vacation here, but who would be less enthusiastic at the prospect of actually living in Lebanon, or having major assets tied-up in the place. In short, our potential to woo foreign direct investment is not being realized.
Across the Gulf in Dubai, the Arab-Israeli conflict made more glamorous headlines when it was revealed that an alleged Israeli hit squad had been exposed by the United Arab Emirate authorities and accused of murdering Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official.
Whether it was the incompetence of the alleged assassins or the sleuthing skills of the local investigating authorities, the fact of the matter is that Dubai sought to protect its brand equity, investment potential, reputation — call it what you will — by not wasting any time in exposing international skullduggery within its borders. That it did so quickly and transparently has probably mitigated much potential long-term damage. One thing is for certain; any attempt to turn the Emirate into a new Beirut has failed.
But in Beirut, the denial lives on.
Considering the costs of the last war in 2006, if Ahmedinejad wants to buy the right to include Lebanon in his strategic master plan, the minimum entry into such a high stakes game should be $10 billion, held in escrow at the Banque du Liban. We may need it.