Lebanon election should be a referendum on disarming Hezbollah, ending the Iranian Occupation

Lebanese anti-government protesters carry placards during a rally to mark the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the anti-government protest movement, in Beirut, on 17 October 2021. EPA

By Ali Hussein

The so called Hezbollah resistance movement is the force    protecting Lebanon’s states quo and the corrupt political elite  in Lebanon. Hezbollah stopped being a resistance movement ever since Israel pulled out of Lebanon in May 2000. Most recently anti-Hezbollah sentiment is “growing like a snowball ”

Beirut – Since 2000 Hezbollah has been using ints arms to gain influence in Lebanon and dictate the politics of the country . No  government could be formed unless Hezbollah decides who should be the prime minister   and how the cabinet should be formed and no president could be elected unless Hezbollah decides who should be the president 

This is why disarming  Hezbollah and ending the Iranian occupation should be the main issue in the upcoming election in Lebanon 

The straw that broke the camel’s back” over the past two decades was power being handed to a militia faction that follows a sectarian ideology foreign to its local sectarian community, as well as the Lebanese and Arab climates. It is part and parcel of the Iranian-Syrian political axis and is totally loyal to it. 

File photo: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei L is shown with Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah. In September 2019 Nasrallah pledged allegiance to Khamanei and Iran.

There is no doubt the other Lebanese factions have their own alliances with other counties in the region. However, those alliances did not rise to the level of bordering on total ideological and organizational alignment that would render those factions integral parts of those alliances whose dictates and commands are always followed, as is the case for Hezbollah with Iran. 

This unique and highly complicated relationship has left Hezbollah without any form of allegiance to the nation or consideration for the country’s interests, leaving Lebanon without its Arab and Western dimensions and putting it in the center of the region and the world’s confrontations on a regional axis’ side.

Hezbollah’s attempts to distinguish itself from the ruling corrupt political class, counting on its reputation as a resistance group that forced the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from south Lebanon in 2000 and battled the Islamic State in Syria, are no longer convincing to many, even to once loyal supporters.

The group’s growing dominance in internal politics, engagement in regional wars and in thwarting the 2019 popular uprising is tarnishing its image as the nation’s defender, critics say.

Cartoon of Lebanon flag showing an Iranian cleric replacing the Lebanese emblem ( the famous Cedar tree of Lebanon ) with the Iranian emblem . Many now feel that Hezbollah’s dominance made Lebanon a colony of Iran

With a continued 22-hour-a-day power cut, lack of  fuel and medicines coupled with exorbitant food prices, priorities are in Lebanon are shifting  to feeding the family,   securing medical treatment or simply making ends meet.

The poverty rate has nearly doubled — from 42% in 2019 to 82% in 2021, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Over two years, the national currency , the Lira has lost  over 90% of its value while the country witnesses a dramatic collapse in basic services, amidst an unemployment surge and closure of businesses.

Not spared from the hardship, complaints within Hezbollah’s own community are not hidden anymore.

“More and more people are expressing their discontent openly,” said a Shiite woman, in her 60s from the Baalbeck region, a Hezbollah stronghold in eastern Lebanon with the highest number of the group’s fighters killed in the Syria war. “They live day by day and are busy securing the basic things, like bread and   fuel.”

“With the overall deteriorating economic conditions, people are speaking out, asking where Hezbollah chief [Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah] is taking us and for what?” she said. “We are ready to fight Israel and support the resistance, but why are we engaging in wars in Syria and Yemen while we are dying of hunger?”

Brig. Gen. Hisham Jaber, head of Middle East Center for Studies and Public Relations who was once close to Hezbollah and a staunch defender of its anti-Israel resistance, confirmed a growing dismay among the group’s supporters in its main strongholds in southern Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa region.

A Lebanese woman burns a poster bearing portraits of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and other politicians with Arabic words that read, “You are against achieving justice,” during a protest Monday in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon. Families and relatives of victims of the Beirut port explosion rallied to support the judge investigating the blast after he was forced to suspend his work. Photo by Wael Hamzeh/EPA-EFE

“Yes, yes, yes…Today, Hezbollah has lost lots of its popular support,” Jaber told UPI. “People consider that Hezbollah is part of this political class which led the country to this [collapsing] point, saying, ‘You probably did not steal, but you kept silent on the thieves and covered up for them.’ Hezbollah cannot deny that.”

He argued that Hezbollah is “not aware of the danger” facing it and asked whether “it is political stupidity” or because it is “implementing orders from Iran.”

Hezbollah, which has been armed and financed by Tehran since it was founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, emerged as a powerful force over the years. In the past decade, it helped Iran extend its influence and power in the region, engaging in the Syria war and supporting the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in the Yemen strife.

Jaber said Hezbollah still receives some $500 million a year from Iran, which has its own political interests in the region and is holding onto the group as an important card.

FILE – In this Aug. 4, 2021 file photo, a monument that represents justice stands in front of towering grain silos that were gutted in the massive August 2020 explosion at the port that killed at least 218 people , wounded over 7,000, destroyed a large section of the capital and left 300, 000 homeless in Beirut, Lebanon. Hezbollah and and its allies are trying to get rid of Judge Tarek Bitar who is probing the blast and were able to suspend his investigation several times . a move that outraged the relatives of the victims of the blast . Hezbollah is reportedly concerned over being exposed for its role in acquiring, storing and using of the 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded at the port (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

“This is very natural, but are the people [Lebanese] accepting this? No, they are not,” he said.

Hezbollah officials justify their groups’ reluctance to help fight corruption in the country by saying they fear a fallout with their allies, who are accused and blamed for the widespread corruption.

“They fear that this could lead to a big, bloody conflict. Their phobia of ending up involved in a [sectarian] strife is making them benefit from this corrupt political class,” Jaber said, warning that anti-Hezbollah sentiment is “growing like a snowball.”

Iran’s ‘occupation’

Lebanese protest against Iran’s influence in their country, JAN 10, 2022

Such exasperation with Hezbollah was translated last January with the formation of a new front targeting Iran directly.

The National Council to Lift the Iranian Occupation of Lebanon was established by some 200 political figures, including former ministers and parliamentarians known for their opposition of Iran and Hezbollah, intellectuals and key civil society figures.

Ahmad Fatfat, head of the council and former minister, said their goal was to end Iran’s “occupation,” break free from Hezbollah’s armed dominance and restore Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“There is occupation by proxy… Even if Iran does not have boots on the ground, Hezbollah exists with 150,000 missiles and 100,000 fighters threatening the country from inside,” Fatfat told UPI, recalling how Iran bragged about its control of four Arab capitals, including Beirut.

He said the problem is about Hezbollah’s “illegal weapons” and practices that obstruct the parliament or Cabinet meetings to impose its conditions and “force the others to do what it wants.”

He was mainly referring to the election of Hezbollah’s   Christian ally, former Army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, as president in October 2016 after the post remained vacant for 29 months. Hezbollah also turned against former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, sending hundreds of its fighters clad in black to deploy in the streets of Beirut to force his ouster in 2011. 

The party was also accused of being behind the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father and former prime minister, and 11 other politicians, journalists and security officials. 2 Hezbollah operatives were indicted in Hariri’s assassination in absentia because Hezbollah refused to hand them over top the UN led  court 

Fatfat said adopting reforms and fighting corruption are necessary to get out of the current financial crisis.

Founder of FPM ( Free Patriotic Movement ,) President Michel Aoun signed a memorandum of understand with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in February 2006 . The agreement landed Aoun the presidency , but reportedly also led to the collapse of Lebanon as a sovereign country and made it a colony of Iran

“But how can you rebuild the state with the presence of illegal weapons that covered for all the corruption over the years?” he said, blaming Hezbollah for the country’s collapse that started in 2011 when the militant group sent its fighters to Syria to fight along President Bashar al-Assad, tightened its grip on Lebanon and pushed away its traditional political and financial backers, the  Arab Gulf countries.

Fatfat, believes that the Lebanese are more aware of the need to get rid of “Iran’s occupation,” as they did with the French mandate in 1943, Israeli occupation in 2000 and Syrian military presence in 2005.

“Hezbollah will well use such attempts to confirm that it is facing big conspiracies and thus reassemble the Shiites around it,” Amin Kammourieh, a journalist and an independent political analyst, told UPI.

The emergence of a third force from within the Shiite community, which is currently dominated by Hezbollah and its Amal Movement ally,  may be the main solution to Lebanon’s problems 

There can be no real justice or sovereignty in Lebanon if Hezbollah is allowed to keep its illegal arms 

Time to have a free and independent Lebanon 

Time to end the Iranian occupation of Lebanon