Welcome to one of the most beautiful, vibrant — and dangerous — countries on the planet.
A scenic and cultural jewel on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon shares borders with Syria and Israel, has a sometimes contentious multiethnic population, and is an unintended haven for a major terrorist organization. Because of the foregoing, Lebanon has for 50 years served as a recurrent battlefield, often for other nationalities' proxy wars.
As this is written — following six years of relative peace since the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict last laid waste the country — someone else's violence once again threatens this small nation. In late March, the Syrian civil war spilled across Lebanon's northern border as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's air force began bombing raids on alleged rebel encampments and training grounds in Lebanese territory.
No one knows how this will ultimately play out, whether the Syrian government's incursion into Lebanon will galvanize Western nations — specifically the U.S. — or the U.N. to intervene in the conflict on the side of the Syrian rebels or whether Lebanon will once again be a victim of the ravages of another country's war. The choices are complex with a panoply of risky ramifications in a region that has come to be characterized as a powder keg. And there's no telling what effect yet another conflict on their soil will mean to the Lebanese people, their safety, infrastructure, business activity and economy.
An irony that distinguishes Lebanon is that despite the violence that has taken place within its borders over decades, the republic — whose area is about the size of Connecticut — not only endures but remains viable as a financial force in the Middle East. Furthermore, its largest city and capital, Beirut, often characterized as “the Paris of the Middle East,” has been able — like a fiercely determined phoenix — to pull itself out of the ashes of war, reconstruct itself and be open for business and tourism. Lebanon's primary industry is finance, and Beirut has remained through peace and war a destination for business.
And at least until this spring, business aviation operators have been routinely flying to Lebanon. Last September, Steve Ragland crewed a Gulfstream IV operated by PepsiCo on a trip to the country. “We landed at Beirut . . . and there were five U.S.-registered aircraft sitting on the ramp there,” he related to BCA.
But the war in Syria has taken its toll on regional operations. Before the recent fighting, according to Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) founding chairman Ali Al Naqbi, Beirut ranked fourth as the region's most popular business aviation destination in terms of movements. "A lot of Arabs go there to do business and take vacations," Al Naqbi observed, "but the war has restricted the number of visits. Now they fly to Turkey and come into Lebanon by sea or other means.”
As a result of the war, MEBAA rescheduled a regional meeting and conference at Beirut originally to convene in April and moved it to September. “After my meeting with the Lebanese prime minister [Najib Miqati],” Al Naqbi said, “we decided to move it to after the summer elections.”