AS I write this, Israel has just attacked Lebanon, bombing all three runways of Beirut’s airport, effectively shutting it down. Israel claims it is targeting terrorist targets in Lebanon, saying that the Shiite group Hezbollah, which has been launching missiles into northern Israel from southern Lebanon, has been allegedly using Beirut airport to bring in weapons from abroad.
Hezbollah earlier this week captured two Israeli soldiers in border skirmishes in southern Lebanon, and is now demanding that Lebanese prisoners being held by Israel be released.
To complicate matters further, Hezbollah members are elected members of the Lebanese Parliament, making them de facto members of the Lebanese government.
Lebanon of course has a long history of being invaded by Israel. The first time was in 1978 and the most famous incursion by Israel into Lebanon was in 1982 when the Israeli Army went all the way into Beirut to dislodge the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its chairman Yasser Arafat from Lebanon.
Beirut has since become a regional magnet for Arab tourists, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US made Lebanon a preferred vacation destination of Saudis and many other Gulf Arabs. With its mild weather, great food and fun nightlife, Lebanon is a natural vacation destination for Gulf residents wanting to escape from the oppressive heat back home.
I can only imagine the economic devastation the Israeli bombing of Beirut’s airport will produce. Tourists, who are in effect now stuck in Lebanon, are probably panicking, and tourists who were planning to visit Beirut shortly are probably busy canceling their reservations and making other plans.
The greater danger of course is if the conflict escalates and widens, drawing in Syria, Iran and other neighboring Arab countries. If that happens, God help us.