Iran’s attack on Lebanon

Sunday 20/11/2016

Iran’s recent political attack on Lebanon is quite remark­able. So is the Syrian regime’s renewed attention to a country that, a few years ago, had removed itself from its custody. Could all of this be caused by nostalgia for those bygone days?

Iran’s attack comes from a desire to score immediately after Michel Aoun’s election as president of Lebanon. Tehran had wished to send Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Aoun’s election session in parliament but some Lebanese were able to diplomati­cally avert that.

Zarif later travelled in Beirut to congratulate Aoun, as if that position had not remained empty for two-and-a-half years because of pressure from Iran. Should Lebanon then rejoice in the newly found freedom of its presidency?

Zarif’s visit to Lebanon would have been comforting if it had been accompanied by a change in Iran’s view of Lebanon as an Arab country first. Lebanon’s interests are with the Arabs first and foremost, particularly the Gulf countries. Anyone acting against these interests is planning to plunge Lebanon in misery and expatriating most of its citizens, especially the Christians, so that it becomes easy to take control of.

Lebanon’s new president did well to remind everyone that the country is committed to the Arab League charter and to all other international agreements, meaning a commitment to the international court appointed by the UN Security Council that is investigating Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005.

Iran needs to review its policies towards Lebanon, policies that did nothing for the country besides brandishing the weapons of Hezbollah.

Can Iran turn into a normal state and change its policies and practices in regards to Lebanon?

The natural tendency is to be pessimistic about that happen­ing. This springs from the very nature of the Iranian regime with its tendency to export its own crises and its belief that Iran is a superpower capable of control­ling the entire region.

The best illustration of that is Iran’s implication in all the sectarian strife in the Arab region. Look at Bahrain, Kuwait or Yemen. What did Iran do in Iraq and what is it doing in Syria? Who does it back among the Palestinians and in Lebanon?

Iran could have played a positive role in the region since 1979 but it chose instead to fan sectarian conflicts. It chose to terrorise its neighbours and even remote countries such as Leba­non, which certainly does not need assistance from a country whose officials boast of being in control of Arab capitals Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a.

Zarif’s visit to Beirut could have been an opportunity for Iran to show that it can offer Lebanon something other than trading in its deals with what it calls the “great Satan”, the United States, and perhaps on in its deals with the “minor Satan”, Israel. For two-and-a-half years, Iran has fiddled with the presidential elections in Lebanon just to prove that it is a major player in the region. Worse, it wanted to demonstrate that Lebanon is an Iranian protectorate and that it can negotiate its fate with the United States.

Iran had let go of the presiden­tial elections in Lebanon in a deal with the United States. It seems that the “great Satan” is willing to let Iran bully the region in exchange for the nuclear deal, which in US President Barack Obama’s eyes was his administra­tion’s greatest single foreign policy achievement. Would things change under Donald Trump, knowing that the latter does not believe in the US nuclear deal with Iran?

Zarif went to Beirut knowing that Iran’s militias in Aleppo are enjoying air cover from Russian planes while its militias in Iraq, the Popular Mobilisation Units, have US air cover. But will the honeymoon with the “great Satan” last when Obama leaves the White House?

In his visit to Lebanon, Zarif drew his strength from the fact that the United States does not wish to ruffle Iran’s feathers. Because Lebanon has always been a friend to the United States and to the West in general, could Zarif complete the favour of releasing Iran’s grip on Lebanon’s presidency by completely releasing Lebanon?

In other words, the best gift to Lebanon on the occasion of the new era that has started with Aoun’s election would be with­drawing Hezbollah forces from Syria and ordering it to stop threatening Arab visitors to Lebanon.

While waiting for the day when no illegal weapons would be allowed on Lebanese soil, whether belonging to Hezbollah or to Palestinian organisations manipulated by Syria, Iran’s release of Lebanon would in the end benefit Iran. The Iranian regime could finally take care of its citizens and would have the chance to prove to the world that Iran is a normal state and not a party in every conflict in the region.