In a matter of two weeks, Hezbollah and its Lebanese allies have lost more than they could fathom. In two weeks, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah had to watch life-size cardboards cutout of him and his allies – symbolically hanged in downtown Beirut, and he could not do anything to stop it. He couldn’t even send his thugs to stop the humiliation, a he usually does when he’s the target of criticism.
On the fourth of August, the explosion at the Beirut post has damaged more than the eye can see, and has put Lebanon on a new crossroad, economically and politically. The immediate urgency of the humanitarian disaster did not distract the Lebanese and the world from the significant moment that could change the political scene of Lebanon in the months to come. And whether Hezbollah admits it or not, they have lost much of their power in Lebanon, even if they still control state institutions.
Hezbollah is today at a crossroad where, no matter in which direction they decide to move, something has to be sacrificed.
WHAT HEZBOLLAH LOST
The port explosion did not occur in a vacuum and it was certainly not a separate accident. The explosion happened as Lebanon was facing the worst economic crisis in its lifetime – one that had put half of the Lebanese under poverty lines and caused severe inflation and shortages of fuel, wheat, food and medical supplies. Lebanese had lost access to their bank accounts and protests have filled the streets, until COVID-19 hit Lebanon.
The Beirut blast took place as Lebanon was collapsing, and it felt like the final nail in the coffin. However, it had also laid the coffin for the ruling elites and Hezbollah.
When Hezbollah and its allies won the parliamentary elections in 2018, they formed their own government and managed to bring their own president, but they also became the authority. And when Hariri’s government resigned after the protests of October 2019, Hezbollah still formed a government that suits its interests and Iran’s agenda in Lebanon. That also meant that they have become in charge, not only of war and peace decisions, but also of the financial challenges, social ailments, and people’s sufferings.
Hezbollah – as it has been going through its own financial crisis due to US sanctions on Iran – could not provide an economic solution for Lebanon. Instead, it continued using state institutions and whatever is left of Lebanon’s hard currency, to help Iran with its financial problems, by increasing its smuggling operations, such as those of fuel and drugs, across the Lebanese-Syrian borders.
Today, Hezbollah has lost its legitimacy as the protector of Lebanon. Not only has it failed to offer a solution to the Lebanese daily challenges, the party has protected a system of corruption and nepotism that has led to Lebanon’s collapse. The Lebanese people, including many Shia who are suffering from the same economic challenges, have lost their trust in Hezbollah and see them as part of a system that is not only failing but also responsible for the death of many Lebanese and the destruction of half of Beirut.
When Hassan Diab’s government resigned after the Beirut explosion, Hezbollah felt that it had lost its own government, but they thought that they needed to make a sacrifice – a scape goat – in order to preserve the real power and the real authority behind a system they have worked so hard to design and preserve. But this strategy doesn’t seem to be working. Right after the explosion, both the French president Emmanuel Macron and US Undersecretary of State David Hale for Political Affairs came to Lebanon and expressed serious concerns regarding the ruling elite that Hezbollah is striving to protect. The solution – according to the Lebanese people and the international community – is an independent government that will oversee serious reforms and a real transformation in the political scene; otherwise, international assistance will not come to Lebanon.
While the Lebanese were still trying to recover their loved ones from under the rubble, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued its final verdict on August 18. Although the tribunal could not directly accuse Hezbollah – or the Syrian regime – of murdering Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, Salim Jamil Ayyash, one of four Hezbollah members charged with belonging to a cell that committed the attack, was found guilty on all the counts of involvement with which he was charged, including committing an act of terrorism and homicide.
Hezbollah’s media and circles of supporters celebrated the verdict as it failed to directly accuse Hezbollah or its leadership; however, in the midst of these celebrations, everyone knows that Ayyash cannot act on his own and without a political decision, especially when the assassination is that complicated and significant. Hezbollah, and all its support base, know that Hezbollah had lost its credibility when years after Hassan Nasrallah accused Israel of killing Hariri, it turned out that a Hezbollah member did it.
A man reacts at the scene of an explosion at the port in Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Getty)
WHAT AOUN/BASSIL LOST
What makes things worse for Hezbollah is that its main and most loyal ally has also lost significantly. Former minister Gebran Bassil – the president’s son-in-law and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement – is facing multiple challenges today. In addition to being the most hated politician in Lebanon today – due to his corruption and alliance with Hezbollah – Bassil has lost the trust of both France and the United States. His alliance with Hezbollah has cost him much, and if anything, it is lessons learnt for anyone who would sell his soul to Iran’s most notorious terrorist group in the region.
President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law decided to sign a memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah in 2006, which has today cost many Lebanese Christians, who mostly reside in the areas of Achrafieh which were destroyed. Today, the price of such an alliance is coming to the surface and the Christian community is waking up from the explosion to realize that Hezbollah cannot protect the Christians. If anything, they are responsible for their losses.
For the FPM leadership, much was lost on August the fourth. Their support base, for one, cannot trust them, but more importantly, Bassil’s presidential dreams disappeared that day, now that he can no longer receive any European or American approval. In addition, he could be designated by the US any day now and his assets would be sanctioned.
Not only did he fail to meet with Hale during his recent visit to Lebanon, he was also ignored by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif. For the Iranians, Bassil was significant when his political power was strong and useful. Today, Bassil will be discarded by the Iranians if he can’t prove his political relevance. Alas, that is going to be prove difficult.
Hezbollah lost legitimacy, the political game, its finances, and the opportunity to stay relevant within the political scene. Hezbollah’s allies lost and became both irrelevant and tarnished. Hezbollah’s old games of hiding behind alleged bureaucrats, Christian allies, or a PM like Saad Hariri are no longer viable.
Hezbollah will have to find a new path: let someone else take charge and help Lebanon get back on its feet, or stay defiant and face the responsibility of the total collapse. In both cases, Hezbollah would lose significantly.