Hezbollah and the Shia in Lebanon: Panic signs

Sunday 26/03/2017
Dire prospects. Women wave Hezbollah flags in front of portraits of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil. (AFP)

During the decades that followed its birth at the beginning of the 1980s, Lebanese Hezbollah succeeded in tying the fate of the country’s Shia population to that of the political regime in Iran.
Two aspects of the situation are unique to Lebanon. The first is that a Shia armed force serving an Iranian agenda exists in Leba­non. The second is that Hezbollah survives there amid a mosaic of other sects, making the fate of Shia in the country even more closely tied to that of Hezbollah in case a profound change occurs in Iran or internationally.
The emergence of the Green Movement in Iran following the 2009 presidential elections is proof that Shia Iranian citizens no longer trust the religious regime in Teh­ran and will always try to escape the grip of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s power model but this genuinely Iranian movement also annoyed other Shia populations in the region, particularly those in Lebanon.
They are allergic not only to changes in the regime but towards any purely internal dialogue between political currents in Iran. The Iranian people are divided between a conservative current and a moderate reformist one headed by a panoply of figures, some of whom are in jail or under house ar­rest but the multitude in Lebanon recognises only the movement of Iran’s supreme leader and is highly suspicious of the reformists there.
Hezbollah considers itself part of Iran’s military apparatus. It does, however, know that ultimately it is not Iranian and no state will recognise it as part of the state of Iran. So, in case the world starts looking for new balances with Iran, Iran’s proxy militias in the region will not be directly affected by the same rules.
Hezbollah must have also noticed that, while the Obama administra­tion was very keen on reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States sought to isolate the group worldwide. Washing­ton tracked Hezbollah’s network, insisted on blacklisting it as a ter­rorist organisation and closely scru­tinised its international finances to a point that it affected the Lebanese banking system.
Hezbollah could not also have missed that the Shia armed groups in Iraq were not subjected to the same harassment even though they were considered agents of Iran in Iraq.
It looks like the Trump ad­ministration will not make any distinctions between Iran and its proxy militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. The United States has espoused the objective of putting an end to Iran’s interferences in the entire region. The Arab countries and the Gulf countries in particular have long sought that objective.
As the Iraqis prepare for a new American age in Iraq, the US mili­tary presence in northern Syria is contingent on the success of the safe-zones project. The presence of Iran-backed militias in the region, including Hezbollah, has become jeopardised. The eventual US-Russian agreement about Syria will most likely not allow the presence of Hezbollah and its sister groups in the country.
Fully aware of these dire pros­pects, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah played the card that had made him wildly popular: Fighting Israel. Hezbollah has since 2006 observed the terms of the ceasefire with Israel on the south­ern borders. For years now, the real enemy was in Al-Qusayr or Homs or Aleppo, etc. Today, the party leader decides it is time to bring out the old “enemy”.
The debates engulfing the Leba­nese Shia are sometimes surreal. The resistance multitude is proud of the additional striking force Hezbollah affords Lebanon when it comes to standing up to the Israeli threat. It does, however, overlook the fact that this same group might end up being part of the striking force of the Syrian regime. At the same time, this multitude is nerv­ous about any changes in the Syrian scene and regarding what I see as the eventual American coup d’état against Iran.
By resorting to escalation, Hez­bollah wishes to be seen as defend­ing Lebanon. In other words, it wants the world to place it within the context of securing the safety of Israel rather than within the context of restraining Iran’s expansionism.
Whatever the changes coming to the region, Hezbollah is behaving like a potential loser. All we need to do is look at its attempts to impose electoral laws that suit it irrespec­tive of what the other political parties think of them, its bloody adventure in Syria, which in the end will benefit Russia, and its total rejection by the non-Shia communi­ties in Lebanon and elsewhere.