As of Tuesday, it has been two months since anti-government protests—aimed at both corruption in general and at Iranian influence via Hizballah in particular—broke out in Lebanon, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The protests have come amidst tightening U.S. sanctions on Iran and Hizballah, including targeted measures against individuals who launder money for the latter., which Hanin Ghaddar believes that these measures have put the Shiite terrorist group in a difficult position:
[Recently], the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned three more Hizballah financiers, [including the] Lebanon-based accountant Tony Saab. . . . Notably, Saab is a Christian who recently told Lebanese media that he admires Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, head of a Hizballah-allied Christian-majority party. . . .
[Meanwhile] Lebanon’s political class has come to several important realizations that may alter their actions going forward. First, the international community, [including France], has firmly sided with the protestors and will not provide financial assistance if the establishment refuses to reform. Second, U.S. sanctions may expand to include Christian allies of Hizballah. Third, the United States will not endorse Bassil’s role in any new government.
Hizballah seems to have recognized that it will have to try to maintain control of the government without Bassil’s party, which puts it in a bind. And this is only the beginning of its problems:
Dropping Bassil will isolate [Hizballah] from the Lebanese Christian community—a major compromise that shows it is under tremendous pressure and may be squeezed into further concessions. Continued U.S. sanctions on Hizballah’s main patron, Iran, have amplified the group’s own financial crisis. The Lebanese state is on the verge of economic collapse and possible bankruptcy, preventing Hizballah from making full use of it as an alternative resource. . . .
The group’s violence against protestors and insistence on protecting corrupt politicians have led many citizens to lose faith in its supposed role as the defender of Lebanon and the enemy of injustice. Even Shiite citizens are joining the rest of the country in mass protests, threatening the group’s ability to win seats in parliament and access state institutions.
Now, writes Ghaddar, is the time for Washington to tighten the economic noose even further.