In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran Exposes Its Fragility

October 18, 2021 | Alberto M. Fernandez
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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.

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