Iran’s dubious empathy for the Sunnis in Lebanon
A few days before Lebanon celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence, Saad Hariri’s news conference confirmed there is someone acting as a barrier against the downfall of Lebanon.
No Lebanese politician who is interested in finding solutions to the country’s crisis, within the boundaries of reason and logic and in conformity with the constitution, can bear the burden of protecting Lebanon alone, no matter how experienced and respected that person is. This is why Hariri had to make sure that everybody knew his or her duties.
At the top of the list of the parties concerned by Hariri’s remarks stands Hezbollah, which doesn’t understand that the prime minister-designate including it in the new government constitutes a very daring risk.
It is a great risk for Lebanon. It is a risk to the Lebanese economy and to Hariri’s political career. He knows better than anyone the significance of the US sanctions against Iran and Tehran’s sectarian militias. While Hariri was giving his news conference, the US State Department announced that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s son had been classified as a “global terrorist.”
As if that were not enough, the United States sanctioned four other people — three Lebanese and an Iraqi — for backing Hezbollah’s activities and its sources of funding.
Instead of wasting time imposing conditions on Hariri, such as giving a ministerial portfolio to one of its six “Sunni representatives,” Hezbollah should have been thinking of how to prevent Lebanon’s economic collapse. The dire consequences of this, should it happen, will not spare any Lebanese, Shias included. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri seems to have understood this simple fact and that made him very sympathetic towards Hariri’s position.
The Lebanese situation can be summarised in one word: “difference.” There is a difference between two schools — a school that believes in the culture of life and whose motto is defending Lebanon’s interests and another that believes in the culture of death and that wants to sacrifice Lebanon for the sake of Iran. It’s as simple as that.
Only Hariri makes this difference and is giving shape to it. Hariri is striving to prevent Lebanon from falling into the Iranian trap while Hezbollah is doing exactly the opposite.
Hariri has paid dearly for refusing to become a puppet of Iran. It is trying in 2018 to reproduce the 2008 conquest of Beirut and Al Jabal but with political manoeuvrings this time. In May 2008, Hezbollah’s militia invaded Beirut and Al Jabal targeting Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.
Hezbollah’s insistence on having one of its Sunnis nominated to the new cabinet is but the apparent facade of this Iranian invasion. It was supposed to happen in the general elections of 2009 but, as it turned out, those who refused to submit to Hezbollah’s will triumphed in those elections when Hariri stepped up to the challenge.
Hariri remained defiant even when he travelled to Tehran in 2010 as Lebanon’s prime minister. He rejected Iran’s three demands. The first was that Lebanon drop the visa requirement for Iranians entering Lebanon putting them on an equal footing with Arab citizens. The second was to accept a Lebanese-Iranian defence treaty, similar to the one between Iran and the Syrian regime. The third was to open the Lebanese banking system to Iran. Iran is still clutching at this last demand, which doesn’t seem possible in the present situation.
What explains this renewed attack on Hariri is the shrinking of Iranian influence in more than one spot, including Yemen, where the battle for Hodeidah is gaining momentum in light of an unclear British position about the Houthis.
Iran must accept the fact that pressuring Lebanon will not do it any good, especially since Lebanon is the United States’ least concern right now. Lebanon has not yet become an ally of Iran despite everything the latter has done to impose its guardianship on Lebanon, such as erasing the border between Lebanon and Syria so Hezbollah militias can participate in the war on the Syrian people from a purely sectarian standpoint.
An Iranian victory over Lebanon will not help Iran. Iran can take Lebanon as a hostage but that will bother Washington none. Iran can infiltrate the Lebanese Sunnis all it wants but it won’t do it any good.
If Iran is so keen on defending the interests of the Sunni community in Lebanon, why doesn’t it stop persecuting its own Sunni citizens in Baluchistan and Ahvaz in addition to the Sunni Kurds? Why does it refuse to permit the construction of a Sunni mosque in Tehran? How come there has not been a single Sunni minister since the 1979 Islamic Revolution? What about Iran’s handling of Iraq’s Sunnis?
Iran’s game in Lebanon is clear. There is a great deal of tension in Tehran and the relief valve for this tension is not going to be the government imposed on Hariri by Hezbollah. Neither will it be a victory over Lebanon, its Sunnis, its Christians nor its Druze.