Nasrallah’s disconnect cannot conceal the region’s realities

The Middle East has entered a new stage in which talk about rejecting and resisting is no longer useful.
Sunday 19/01/2020
Supporters of the pro-Iran Shia Hezbollah movement watch as the movement’s leader Hasan Nasrallah delivers a speech on a screen in Nabatieh on January 12, 2020.  (AFP)
Illusions. Supporters of the pro-Iran Shia Hezbollah movement watch as the movement’s leader Hasan Nasrallah delivers a speech on a screen in Nabatieh on January 12, 2020. (AFP)

If there was one speech that had absolutely nothing to do with reality, it would be the latest by Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In the speech, Nasrallah tried to persuade the Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and the Iranians themselves that the Islamic Republic was a regional power that can pursue its expansionist project despite the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

What Nasrallah failed to understand was that Soleimani’s death and that of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq, in a US drone attack near Baghdad airport, exposed the Iranian regime’s true nature.

Is there a more backward regime than the one in which the IRGC mistakes a Ukrainian passenger plane that took off from Tehran airport for a cruise missile and shoots it down? Shouldn’t Nasrallah be presenting his condolences to the victims’ relatives instead of uttering pure nonsense, knowing that most of the victims were Iranian citizens or of Iranian origin?

Let’s accept, for a moment, that millions of Iranian citizens took to the streets for Soleimani’s funeral and that this “terrified” US President Donald Trump. What, then, about the Iranian students and citizens who took to the streets of Tehran and other cities as they burned pictures of Soleimani and shouted “Death to the dictator,” meaning Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?

It is certain that something new is brewing inside Iran where ordinary citizens are starting to feel that the regime has entered a stage that does not bode well for its future.

The truth is that Nasrallah has nothing to offer the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Iraqis or the Yemenis, whom he remembers in his speeches from time to time. His retaliatory threats against the United States will remain nothing more than big words because the Lebanese are preoccupied with Lebanon, the Syrians with Syria, the Iraqis with Iraq, the Yemenis with Yemen and the Iranians with Iran.

As far as the Lebanese are concerned, Nasrallah’s words make sense only to a portion of his supporters who have fallen into the trap of blind fanaticism and loyalty to velayat-e-faqih. There might be some other believers from the Free Patriotic Movement party headed by Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

As for the ordinary Lebanese, regardless of their sect, community, region or social classes, Nasrallah must seem to be on another planet. Any Lebanese endowed with a minimum level of common sense is preoccupied about the fate of his or her deposits in Lebanese banks.

Lebanese central bank Governor Riad Salame said the country’s banks can return money deposited in dollars in the 1.5 million accounts but in Lebanese liras. Of course, there has been a sharp drop in the exchange rate of the Lebanese lira and Salame was not explicit about how the transactions could be made.

What we are witnessing is a heist of the savings of the poor, the rich and the in-betweens. This is the question that preoccupies Lebanese citizens, including members of the Shia community, who make up one-third of the depositors.

You can bet those people, including most Shias, are not concerned with revenge for Soleimani or Muhandis. They do not care whether Trump is the biggest liar on the planet or not. What good is all this talk about Trump if the United States continues with its sanctions against Iran and consequently against its proxies, such as Hezbollah, considering what the sanctions mean in terms of adverse repercussions on Lebanese banks and the savings of the Lebanese people?

Where does Hezbollah want to take Lebanon, with all its sects and ideologies? There is, unfortunately, no answer to that question given Nasrallah’s disconnect from reality.

This reality says that the Syrians, like the Lebanese, are worried about the price of the dollar after its exchange rate exceeded 1,000 Syrian liras. They also know that the Iranian, Hezbollah and other sectarian militias in Syria were sent to the country so Syrian President Bashar Assad could stay in Damascus and so the Russians could have the final say in Syria — after coordinating with Israel of course.

Nasrallah was also way off target regarding Iraq. The main concern of Iraqi officials is not avenging the killing of Soleimani or Muhandis. It is how to restore the bridges and open channels with the United States and the Trump administration.

Iraqi officials discovered, after a lot of pain, that US sanctions can extend to them, one by one, if they consider any pressure to compel the United States to withdraw militarily from Iraq. They have a living example of the pain that US sanctions can cause: Iran.

It is natural in a country such as Iraq, where corruption is rife among the ruling class, that every official is thinking about saving his own skin, rather than avenging Soleimani and Muhandis. Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul-Mahdi forgot the very important reality that there is a popular revolution in Iraq and he has been rejected by the Shias before being rejected by the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. It is not a coincidence that there were renewed popular protests in Iraq, specifically in Karbala, the same time Soleimani was being buried in Iran.

Iranians know the Islamic Republic regime has entered a decline phase, especially after they discovered it was unable to respond to Soleimani’s assassination and that it was behind the downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane.

With confrontations between the regime and its people erupting practically daily, the question of whether Iran has an adequate response to the US action is no longer relevant. The Iranian regime started falling practically the minute Iranians discovered that it cannot face US sanctions, even if it possessed all the militias of the world.

The whole of the Middle East has entered a new stage in which the old talk about “rejecting and resisting” and everything similar is no longer useful. What works is finding a source of dollars. The problem is that the United States holds and controls the dollar.

Are there people in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq who realise that simple reality rather than continuing to spew the same old resistance discourse? That discourse is only good for the simple-minded because reality is different.