Sunday, 3 Jul 2022 - 4 of Tammuz, 5782

Lebanese elections unlikely to stop country’s downward spiral

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“Lebanon was the Islamic empire’s first target. Over the past decade, it has fallen like a ripe fruit into Iran’s hands,” said Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

By Israel Kasnett, JNS

As Lebanon’s parliamentary elections took place on Sunday, optimism for a better future ran low. Lebanon today faces catastrophic collapse; its economy is in tatters, and some three-quarters of the population live in poverty. The country finds itself in a chronic state of crisis with Iran and Hezbollah the primary causes for its downfall.

With traditionalists pitted against reformists and reports that Hezbollah has lost some of its parliamentary power, it is unclear that the elections achieved anything other than further governmental chaos and an even more polarized cabinet. Iran-backed Hezbollah will find a new avenue to get its way and rule the country subversively—if not in the halls of power then through intimidation and aggression.

Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), has noted that these elections “are crucial since they will probably determine Lebanon’s identity in the coming years.”

“The present legislative elections will lead to almost complete paralysis of the Lebanese body politic, adding to the national chaos because of the dire and exceptional economic situation,” he said. “Such a stagnation would point to the disintegration of Lebanon as a state—from a failed state as is the case today to a theoretically non-existent one in the future.”

He also noted that the political struggle for power in Lebanon “is between two main ideological blocs: the one aiming to transform Lebanon into another province of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the other bloc fighting for Lebanon’s Arab identity and independence.”

According to Dr. Shimon Shapira, a senior researcher also at the JCPA, Iran has long sought to establish an Islamic empire among the Shi’ite populations in the Middle East region and encourages them to “challenge the nation-states in which they operate and to shape them by building a fighting Islamic society with military capabilities that is exclusively loyal to the leader of Iran, and that affords Iran active involvement in the jihad against Israel.”

“Lebanon was the Islamic empire’s first target,” he said. “Over the past decade, it has fallen like a ripe fruit into Iran’s hands. Through Hezbollah, Iran has taken control of the institutions of the Lebanese state and turned it into a failed state whose stability has collapsed amid severe economic and political corruption that threatens its demise. Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria have fallen, and Iran is using Yemen’s territory to wage the struggle against Saudi Arabia, whose legitimate control of the Islamic holy places Iran has put in question.”

While Hezbollah is largely viewed at home as the victorious party after the 2006 Second Lebanon War against Israel, it came with a cost; parts of Lebanon suffered severe damage when Israel responded to the terror group’s rocket barrage on Israeli civilians.

Even after it struggled to recover over the next decade, in August 2020, a massive explosion rocked the Beirut port, killing more than 150 people and wounding more than 6,000. A sizable number of the city’s buildings were destroyed or suffered significant damage. No one in Lebanon has taken responsibility, but behind closed doors, many citizens believe Hezbollah was behind the unintentional blast caused by munitions stored at the port.

‘Struggle between Hezbollah and Israel at full throttle’

The underlying problem is that no matter how much progress Lebanon makes or how far it manages to drag itself out of its current mess, Hezbollah is poised to destroy the country once again—with Iran’s blessing.

Hezbollah works day and night to improve its military capabilities in the likely and inevitable event it goes to war with Israel.

Shapira noted that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that the terror organization “had managed to convert thousands of missiles in its possession into precision-guided missiles, despite Israel’s attempts to thwart the process during its ‘campaign between the wars.’ ”

At the moment, according to Shapira, “Hezbollah is believed to have 130,000 missiles and rockets with ranges of 10 to 500 kilometers dispersed in Southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in bunkers next to schools, clinics, hospitals, soccer fields, as well as the Iranian embassy in Beirut and the Lebanese Defense Ministry.”

Israel has made clear—mainly by bombing Iranian weapons deliveries to Hezbollah through Syria—that it viewed Iran’s precision-guided missile program as a red line and would not allow such missiles or technology to be produced or transferred to Hezbollah.

As Shapira noted, Nasrallah secretly visited Tehran last year to discuss options and responses in case Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran’s directives to Hezbollah in the event of such an attack were clear: launch long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and other strategic targets deep inside Israel.

According to Shapira, Iran’s strategy in Lebanon is based on three main factors:

One, the turning of Lebanon into an Iranian forward position against Israel, including an array of short- and long-range missiles intended to deter Israel from attacking the Iranian nuclear program.

Two, the building of an Islamic society in Lebanon in the image of Iran whose fealty is to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Three, active involvement in the Palestinian jihad against Israel. It was the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassem Soleimani, who worked to surround Israel with missiles. Although he was assassinated in 2020, the threat he helped create remains true today.

In Shapira’s view, Israel’s main challenge with regard to Lebanon continues to be its struggle against the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, Iranian weapons transfers to Hezbollah and against Iran’s precision-guided missile program.

With Lebanon’s current political stalemate and an Iran-backed Hezbollah bent on controlling the country at all cost, Israel must now deal with a nearly non-existent state on its northern border that is quickly succumbing to Iran’s powerful and destructive domination.

“The struggle between Hezbollah and Israel is at full throttle,” said Shapira. “Hezbollah, with Iran’s help, is working to build long-range capabilities that will allow it to strike precise targets in the Israeli home front. Israel is resolved to prevent Hezbollah from gaining that capability.”

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