In his most recent speech on Tuesday, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah unambiguously said that he – and his Iranian sponsors – are the deciders of Lebanon. Despite several attempts at maneuvering the political and economic crisis by his allies and other political parties, Nasrallah finally said no to three ideas: no to early elections, no to resignations of Hariri and other ministers and MPs, and no to the central bank stopping of subsidies. Hezbollah wants to preserve the status quo and continue smuggling subsidized goods.
Then he went straight to the point: Hezbollah is ready to go to Iran and ask for fuel, and Iran will take Lebanese Liras as payment - even if this means that Lebanon will be sanctioned for buying Iran’s’ fuel.
He also threatened that Hezbollah would take action in this regard if the Lebanese state does not act. “If we reach a state of despair over the state’s action, we in Hezbollah will negotiate with the Iranian government and buy gasoline and diesel ships and will bring them to Beirut port… let the Lebanese state block the entry of diesel and gasoline to the Lebanese people,” Nasrallah said.
Although this surprised many in Lebanon, it was an honest declaration of hegemony. This state is mine, Nasrallah said.
The State of Hezbollah
Lebanon has long become part of Iran’s regional project, but reminiscence of the state still gave an impression of sovereignty. Today, the state collapsed with the economy, and whatever was left of independence is gone. To make things clear, Nasrallah reassured us earlier this week that Iran is now in control – of everything.
Forget the reforms, hopes for accountability, democracy or peace. Forget freedom of speech, and do not bother with elections and people’s will or desire for change. None of this will matter when Hezbollah needs to stay in control. They will kill, threaten, and take by force, and the Lebanese people – if they do not like the Iranian occupation – can leave. Those who cannot leave will have to surrender.
Since its inception, Hezbollah focused on its security and military programs, and never spent any time or resources to develop a socio-economic vision for Lebanon, or any of the states that Iran occupies, or wishes to occupy. Hezbollah’s ideology is clear and simple, and it does not leave any room for freedom or political participation. It has always been based on a simple formula: what is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine.
This attitude comes from similar Islamists trends, who at their core, oppose critical thinking and democracy. The most powerful institutions are military and religious, while others, such as social, economic, cultural and others, come secondary or not at all. Accordingly, all what fumed Lebanon for the past century will be eradicated, and Lebanon will follow the same trends spreading in the region by Iran and its proxies. The collapse of the state at this point is necessary.
Isolating Lebanon from the international community does not have to be avoided. With a country and people completely under their control, without any leverage left for the US, France or the Gulf States, Hezbollah can move faster with transforming Lebanon into an Iranian colony and stop worrying about repercussions.
From a state within the state, Hezbollah spent decades to weaken the Lebanese state, and overgrow it. Today, Lebanon is the small state – an almost nonexistent entity – within Hezbollah’s state.
A POSSIBLE SCENARIO
IN the midst of the eradication process of the Lebanese state, Hezbollah also realized that a weak state could be better than a completely collapsed one. A weak state still receives assistance and humanitarian aid that Hezbollah could still use and smuggle. Until a new US-Iran nuclear agreement, Hezbollah’s financial crisis will continue to hamper the group’s internal and regional operations. In addition, whatever is left of the state’s resource will be at its disposal – from subsidized items, covered by people’s deposits, to international aid that comes through the public institutions. They will try to take it, directly or via their allies.
A few weeks ago, Janoubia website reported that Hezbollah is seeking to benefit from the collapse of Lebanon and the breakdown of all its security, banking, political, and administrative institutions, in addition to an expected socio-economic collapse and the complete chaos. The collapse and disintegration of the country’s institutions could push all political parties and elites to accept a new political conference – one that would change the constitution, overthrow the Taef accord, and lead to a new three-power power-sharing system in Lebanon. By default, Hezbollah will increase its representation in the state, and guarantee a long-term power and security for its weapons and military presence.
The main concern for Hezbollah and the Iranian regime is to protect these powers and control. They fear a changing Middle East, with the Abraham Accords, Israel’s growing technological and military capabilities, and a further isolation of the Iranian regime if the US – not just the Biden administration – decided to contain Iran’s operations and power in the region, despite signing the nuclear deal.
Establishing a new system in Lebanon will not only protect Iran’s proxies, but also turn the page on what we knew as Lebanon for a hundred years. If this system works in Lebanon, it could also be a model to follow in the rest of the region, mainly Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where Iran needs to bolster its proxies within and above institutions, even if it means economic collapses and social explosions.
The Iranian regime knows that any agreement with the United States or a cease-fire with Israel will only be temporary and for a brief period. Eventually, the region will continue to be Iran’s battlefield and bargaining chips.
Looking forward, it will not be farfetched if Hezbollah pushes further to the collapse of institutions, and calls for a political conference ahead of May 2022, in order to avoid the elections and establish Iran’s hegemony in Lebanon before it becomes complicated. In this sense, Lebanon’s problem is not economic or financial, and the solution needs a lot more than infrastructure and institutional reforms. Lebanon’s problem is much more fundamental than this – and the whole system needs a serious upheaval. The Lebanese people need to be liberated from Iran’s occupation, and of Iran’s proxies and allies, and then the march towards reform and accountability could begin.
Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.