Iranian protests are likely to affect Lebanon’s Hezbollah

Hezbollah will lose its value as a tool to project Iranian power in Lebanon and the region.
Sunday 14/01/2018
Hezbollah supporters carrying posters of the head of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah (R), and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the Lebanese city of Nabatieh. (AFP)
Hezbollah supporters carrying posters of the head of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah (R), and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the Lebanese city of Nabatieh. (AFP)

It is unlikely that the recent demonstrations in Iran will bring down the regime in Tehran but it is almost certain that they will force the ruling mullahs to change course.

The message that the demonstrators wanted to deliver to the regime is that they are not interested in belonging to a regional superpower. They want to belong to a country that addresses their needs in jobs and does not suppress their freedoms. They want Iran to abandon its dreams of resurrecting the ancient Persian Empire. The costs of such an ambition proved too high.

The most expensive investment for the radical mullahs has been Lebanon, which began in 1982 with the establishment of Hezbollah.

We don’t know how much money Iran pours into Hezbollah each year. Estimates vary from $800 million-$1 billion. What is definite, however, is that the cost of maintaining the 22,000-strong militia, plus its considerable arsenal, is provided by Tehran. We know that because Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared it openly in a recent speech. He added reassuringly: “As long as there is money in Iran we will continue to have money.”

What, however, if there is no more money in Iran?

In addition to supporting Hezbollah, Iran bankrolls television stations, publications, journalists, pundits, web sites and an array of Lebanese politicians. Together they form an orchestra that plays Iran’s music in Lebanon. Tehran’s effort has been met with considerable success to the extent that it controls the vital organs of the Lebanese state. The uprising in Iran may very well end that.

The discontent in Iran echoed sentiment that is simmering among Iran’s supporters in Lebanon. A few weeks before the eruption of the Iranian demonstrations, a small uprising broke out in a southern suburb of Beirut, a main stronghold of Hezbollah. Demonstrators chanted slogans assailing Nasrallah and protested the party’s corruption and its involvement in the war in Syria.

While the Iranian revolt is unlikely to bring down the regime, it certainly shook its foundations. The ruling mullahs will have to abandon their hope to attain superpower status. They will need to focus instead on attending to critical domestic issues if they want to avoid a perpetual state of agitation in the country. The fallout from such a radical change in direction will be profound on Lebanon.

Hezbollah will lose its value as a tool to project Iranian power in Lebanon and the region and, consequently, the flow of Iranian cash will turn into a trickle. More important, the political landscape in the country will shift again as Iran’s Lebanon orchestra begins to play a different tune.