Protests rocked Beirut a in the early october against the governments for failure to find solution to the economic crisis, corruption in the legislation, public sector and lack of basic facilities to its citizens Interest. Lebanon enjoy backing from both Iran and its ‘existential’ enemy the US. Labanon gets most of its foreign aid from the west keeping its economy afloat while Iran supports the labanese political elite including Hezbollah, a major shia led party with massive political weight, who has sided with Iran in carrying out Iran’s broader political and military endeavours in the region.
Although the current protests in Lebanon are not sectarian based with hundreds of thousands of Sunni, Shi, Christian druz coming together for toppling of government which it accuses of corruption and ill-treatment of its citizens, politics in Lebanon is influenced by sectarian design giving representation to sects based on their share of vote in the elections. Learning from the bitter civil war of 1975-1990, four main sects; Shia, Sunni, Christians and druz among 17 other official ones, maintain stability in the parliament even if it looks on the verge of collapse at times, it has not. Hezbollah is the strongest political party with an active militia backed strongly by the Iranian government.
Iran, ever since the protests started maintains that the anti-government protests is a ‘work of the western intelligence’. Hezbollah supporters attacked the anti-government camps of the protesters as the protest stepped into its second week and Labanese security forces failed to protect the protesters from attacks. Lebanon is bound to suffer violence and blood-shed if a settlement is not reached. Iran has not only pledged to prevent Hezbollah from falling but also told its allies in Moscow it intends to increase Hezbollah’s power in the current situation even if it has to use force.
Political progress stands at cross-roads amid Iran-west tug-of-war in the country. Tehran’s international foes have used financial clout as a direct indication of US’ influence in the state. Saad Hariri, before giving in to the protests by resigning despite immense pressure from Hezbollah not to, failed to convince foreign donors to provide 11 billion dollar aid pledged to it last year, mainly because of Hezbollah’s prominence. The west or mainly the US sees Hezbollah as an Iranian tool which it uses to lend support to Bashaar Assad of Syria, among others, which US has engaged in war with since 2011. Washington and Riyadh see the riots as a benefit for their policy of tightening grip on the Hezbollah through sanctions, which also shows resistance to Israel’s, A major US’ strategic partner, occupying of some parts of Lebanon.
Wealthy Sunni Gulf country, Saudi Arabia has long been involved in proxy with Iran across the region and funded Beirut but Saudi cut back massive aid three years ago claiming Hezbollah had ‘Hijacked’ the labanese state.
Two US officials stated last week that Trump’s administration has withheld 105 million dollars in security aid to Lebanon. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia has coordinated moves against Iran-linked targets by imposing sanctions on 25 corporations, banks, and individuals linked to Iran’s support for militant networks including Hezbollah.
‘Gulf Arab states are bound by sanctions. Hezbollah are an integral part of the (Labanese) government. Nobody has given up on Lebanon but the system is broken… Improvements need to be seen on several fronts, including fiscal discipline’ told a gulf source to reuters.
No stake-holder is Lebanon is likely to bend its knees in front of the other. And influence of stake-holders is significant enough to not be ignored. Choosing Lebanon over Iran by the Lebanese President, he has to make compromises and forgo the alliances.