In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran Exposes Its Fragility

Oct. 18 2021

On October 10, Iraqis went to the polls, delivering disappointing results for the two major pro-Iran coalitions. But, notes Alberto M. Fernandez, the parties that did well are not averse to cooperating with the Islamic Republic. Tehran’s closest allies, however, have focused on a meager ten seats (out of 329) won by an anti-Iranian coalition, with a powerful Shiite militia leader raising accusations of election fraud. Here Fernandez sees a parallel to the recent violence on the streets of Beirut, which likewise pits Iran-backed militias against those who wish to see a diminution of the ayatollahs’ influence:

If Iran’s proxies in Iraq were concerned about ten parliamentarians, in Lebanon Iran’s proxies seem to be concerned about one judge. Judge Tarek Bitar only took over the investigation of the Beirut port explosion earlier this year. . . . Even though many Lebanese already believe that there was a Hizballah connection to the blast (one explanation was that this was a shipment of nitrates used in barrel bombs against Syrian cities during that country’s civil war), the idea of a judge actually clarifying the case and fingering some corrupt officials—a category of which Lebanon has a surplus—seems to have become a Hizballah redline. This led to a violent provocation in Beirut on October 14, as Hizballah and Amal opened fire on unnamed assailants, even firing rocket-propelled grenades at office buildings.

Why have Hizballah in Lebanon and its counterparts in Iraq, near-hegemons in both countries, reacted with such vehemence to what may seem to the outsider to be relatively small reversals? Iran’s proxies in both countries are indeed almost all-powerful, but they are strong only in relative terms. Anti-Iranian-regime feeling is strong in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in Syria (and inside Iran too). Aside from a fanatical and heavily armed hard core—essential henchmen for Iranian hegemony—nobody much likes Iran, even if they also don’t like the U.S. or Israel. It is that small and fanatical core that projects its power—through the triple venues of politics, propaganda, and violence—over much larger populations who serve under Iranian hegemony, at varying levels of willingness, because of fear, weakness, or greed.

The key elements of such an approach are the perception of inevitability and an aura of impunity. It is those elements, coupled with actual violence, that generally keep the masses in line. That is why a single judge in Lebanon, a mere handful of deputies in Iraq, or one lone heroic voice like Lokman Slim constitute a threat. They shatter the narrative of inevitability.

Read more at MEMRI

More about: Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Middle East

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy