Iran delivers the final punch, and Lebanon is knocked out

Tragic as it is in Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer the main concern of the Lebanese.
Wednesday 06/05/2020
Members of the Islamic Health Society, an arm of the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group prepare to spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus, in a southern suburb of Beirut. (AP)
Widening encroachment. Members of the Islamic Health Society, an arm of the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group prepare to spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus, in a southern suburb of Beirut. (AP)

“Look for Iran.” These words encapsulate the financial, political and moral collapse of Lebanon. These words describe Lebanon’s transformation into a vassal state, lacking in sovereignty and with permeable borders — and run by the axis of evil led by Iran.

Through its Hezbollah presence in Lebanon, Iran has worn down the Lebanese, reducing them to a state of hunger and poverty. Meanwhile, the Lebanese have seen their earnings and savings siphoned off as a result of authoritarian and financial tyranny and mangled institutions, riddled with corruption, partisan quotas and cronyism. Even the popular uprising in Lebanon has been neutralised by the malicious authority, which knows only how to evade accountability by inventing scapegoats for its multiple failures, while conveniently hiding the systematic looting of the state’s resources.

Tragic as it is in Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer the main concern of the Lebanese. There is a greater threat to their lives and souls. It was the severe economic crisis — one that is intrinsically linked to the political crisis triggered by the October 17 uprising — that revealed the extent of the popular anger at the political authority and of the dissatisfaction with the current power-sharing equation in the country. These crises resulted in a different Lebanon, a stolen country with a stolen sovereignty run by an authority that builds its influence and power on a system of interests that is contrary to the interests of the people and the constitutional institutions — a system that uses border crossings for smuggling activities that feed a mafia regime under the umbrella of a so-called axis of resistance, run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) within the framework of the so-called “Shia Crescent.”

For Tehran, Lebanon is the model country in the Iranian axis. This is obvious from the regional role assigned by the IRGC to the jewel in Iran’s crown in the region, Hezbollah. Whether in Iraq or in Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah has a finger in every pie. In Iraq, it is given the task of settling the disputes between the Iraqi factions, especially in the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which explains the recent American decision to offer a $10 million reward for information about the whereabouts and activities of Hezbollah’s representative in Iraq, Muhammad Kawtharani. In Syria, Hezbollah is one of the most prominent pillars of Iranian influence, ready to spring into action whenever talk about imminent international and regional settlements in Syria makes Iran itchy. This role partly explains the reasons for the only visit taken by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif outside the country for months: A trip to Damascus to meet Bashar Assad in the wake of Russia’s message of reprimand to the latter.

Lebanon paid and is still paying the bill for Iran. This is, in short, the essence of its crisis. To pay this bill, Lebanon has been drawing from its balance of goodwill with the Arab countries and the international community. But, in the end, Lebanon has been turned into a base for Iranian influence, a failed state, unable to find solutions to its worsening crises on all levels, ruled by an authority that deals with Lebanon and its people as hostages to be used to blackmail Arab and international communities.

The second tool used to oppress Lebanon and the Lebanese is setting up a system of government or administration whose very existence depends on – and continues with – the power of corruption and quotas at the expense of the Lebanese national interests. In fact, Hezbollah is the protector and direct beneficiary of the continuity of the quota system in Lebanon and of the weakness of the judiciary, the neglect of the public services and the insecurity of the country’s ports and border crossings.

This fragile economic and institutional structure of the Lebanese state has reached a dead end. The October 17 uprising was the expression of a popular and national rejection of the continuation of this fragility that threatens the very existence of Lebanon and deprives the Lebanese citizen of a national protection system. This citizen is now demanding accountability, after he had been driven to utter poverty and stripped of his human dignity, let alone his national dignity, by a corrupt power system.

But Hezbollah does not see it that way. Right from the beginning, it stood – and still stands – strongly against the will of the Lebanese people and is refusing to change. It is today using Hassan Diab’s government to settle certain internal political scores by transferring the confrontation to an area that allows it to take control by re-mobilising sectarian and community nervousness on the one hand and, on the other, by trying to show that the problems in Lebanon lie not in Hezbollah’s illegal and unconstitutional role and influence, but rather in the sectarian quota system that prevents statehood, disrupts accountability and legalises corruption.

In light of the financial collapse that drove the national currency to unprecedented low levels of depreciation, matched only by the state of Iran’s own currency, Hezbollah found nothing better to do than to launch, through Hassan Diab’s government, a vilification campaign against the governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salame, accusing him and the banks of causing this collapse and withholding people’s funds. While there is some truth to the accusation, the fact of the matter is that Salame is just an employee implementing policies drawn up by the country’s authorities. Thus, the responsibility is primarily political.

However, what was remarkable in this context was Washington’s intervention in defence of Salame. According to leaked information from multiple sources, including those close to Speaker Nabih Berri, US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea addressed a direct message to the president of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, informing him that Washington would not tolerate further attacks on Salame and is ready to take punitive measures against some political figures if they continue.

At the same time, there have been other political messages floated by news of bombings targeting some bank branches in Sidon and Tyre in southern Lebanon. The intention of these bombings was to give the impression that the conflict was between the banking sector and the governor of the Banque du Liban on the one hand, and the Lebanese authority on the other. This, of course, is a fabrication of a non-existent division, especially when it is well known that most of the banking sector in Lebanon is either owned by powerful Lebanese political families, or the result of a financial-political-power partnership, and therefore it would not be possible to talk about a banking sector that exists outside the authority and the quota system.

America’s cautious entry into the crisis does not prejudice its policy of monitoring the situation from the sidelines and not interfering in internal confrontations. Washington’s position remains based on protecting key departments in the Lebanese state, such as the army and security forces, and most importantly the free economic system that is still valid within the Lebanese context since no voice has yet been raised demanding it be scrapped for an alternative system. The only alternative that exists, so far, is the destructive chaos that represents Hezbollah’s real strength.