Israel has formally offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office said Tuesday, as the Jewish state’s neighbor to the north reels from a major financial meltdown.
Citing what it said were efforts by the Hezbollah terror group to bring Iranian funds to Lebanon, a statement from Gantz’s office said the Israel Defense Forces Liaison Unit’s relayed the offer through UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
Israel and Lebanon do not have diplomatic relations. The Israeli military and Iran-backed Hezbollah, which holds sway over state decision-making in Lebanon and denies Israel’s right to exist, fought a devastating war in 2006.
“As an Israeli, as a Jew and as a human being, my heart aches seeing the images of people going hungry on the streets of Lebanon,” Gantz said at a ceremony on Sunday.
He added: “Israel has offered assistance to Lebanon in the past and today as well we are ready to act and to encourage other countries to extend a helping hand to Lebanon so that it will once again flourish and emerge from its state of crisis.”
Last year, Israel offered humanitarian assistance after a massive blast at Beirut’s port killed over 200 people, but was rebuffed.
The Israeli offer of assistance comes as Lebanon grapples with a raft of shortages, including gasoline, with the caretaker government discussing lifting subsidies it can no longer afford amid what the World Bank says is one of the world’s worst financial crises since the 1850s.
The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market and the Lebanese state is providing less than five hours of electricity a day in most areas, as it struggles to come up with the foreign currency for fuel imports.
Hospitals have also warned that worsening power cuts and fuel shortages are gravely impacting the health sector.
Lebanon has been without a government since the previous one resigned after the deadly port explosion last August, but a deeply divided political class has failed since to agree on a new cabinet to lift the nation out of crisis.
The country’s caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, appealed Tuesday to the international community to save his country from “death and demise.”
Speaking to diplomats, Diab urged friendly nations to extend assistance despite the lack of a new government, saying that linking aid to reform of a deeply corrupt system has become a “threat to the lives of Lebanese” and to the country’s stability.
“What sin have the Lebanese committed to pay a dear price? Are the Lebanese people supposed to die at hospital’s doors on the way to holding the corrupt accountable?” Diab said.
“I appeal through you to the kings, princes, presidents and leaders of brotherly and friendly countries, and I call upon the United Nations and all international bodies, the international community, and the global public opinion to help save the Lebanese from death and prevent the demise of Lebanon,” he told the diplomats.
“Lebanon is a few days away from social explosion,” he added. “The Lebanese are facing this dark fate alone.”