Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared victory last week in Lebanon.
He has made plenty of empty bombastic victory boasts in the past, most notoriously after the Israelis served his own ass to him on a kabob skewer during the 2006 war, but this time, thanks to the now-unchecked rise of Iranian power, Hezbollah really is winning.
“Iran can do anything it wants in Lebanon without any political opposition or challenges,” Hanin Ghaddar writes in NOW Lebanon. “And now Iran can focus to win what it needs in Syria, while everyone is busy making business deals with the ‘new Iran.’ Lebanon, on the other hand, is going to pay a very high price for all these deals and compromises, more so as Iran, Russia and the Assad regime are scoring more gains in Syria.”
Before Osama bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001, Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization in the world. Its killing spree began, not long after the Iranian hostage crisis, in 1983 with the destruction of the US Embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks near the international airport with suicide truck bombers.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps created Hezbollah from scratch during the chaos of Lebanon’s civil war in 1982, and the so-called Party of God has been the most successful export of the Iranian revolution ever since. Hezbollah is, in effect, the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. It answers to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and their flags are almost identical.
Iran spent roughly 100 million dollars a year on Hezbollah before the war in Syria started. Now that the nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran is going into effect, the Iranian government has 100 billion dollars worth of previously frozen assets to play with. That’s a thousand times as much as its baseline Hezbollah budget.
And that 100 billion only includes previously frozen assets the United States returned a little more than a week ago. It doesn’t take into account all the additional wealth the Iranian government will be able to produce now that the sanctions are gone.
Hezbollah is already the most advanced terrorist army in the world. ISIS is larger and holds more territory at the moment, but ISIS doesn’t have a terrifying arsenal of missiles that can turn an entire nation into a kill zone. Hezbollah does. And if the Iranian regime decides to pull out all the stops, there’s no telling how much of a menace Hezbollah could become in the future.
The Syrian and Iranian governments have never stopped backing these guys to the hilt, and Hezbollah is repaying the favor by fighting in Syria on behalf of its beleaguered co-patron Bashar al-Assad, who is supported now not only by Iran but also by Russia.
So Hezbollah is part of an extremely powerful geopolitical bloc while leaders of Lebanon’s anti-Hezbollah “March 14” coalition have seen every single one of their friends shrug and say, you’re on your own.
Lebanon has been politically deadlocked and without a president for almost two years now, but the anti-Hezbollah coalition can’t hold the line anymore. They’ve completely surrendered. In late January, two of March 14’s most prominent leaders finally threw in the towel and nominated pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah figures to fill the vacancy.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces—a former Christian militia that was allied with Israel during the 1975-1990 civil war—made amends of sorts with his old nemesis, Michel Aoun, who has been angling for the presidency and backed by Assad and Hezbollah for a little more than a decade.
At the same time, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri whom the Syrians and Hezbollah assassinated with a truck bomb in 2005, nominated Marada movement leader Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency. Franjieh, like his father and grandfather before him, is so close to the House of Assad he may as well be a blood relative. He spent his teenage years in Syria as the protégé of Bassel al-Assad.
“Within March 14,” Hezbollah leader Nasrallah said last week and smiled, “one essential member supports Aoun, while another essential member supports Franjieh. Is this a loss for us, or a gain?”
Hariri and Geagea aren’t throwing their support behind their old foes because they suddenly think Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian regime and Vladimir Putin are awesome. They don’t have much of a choice. The West doesn’t have their back anymore, so what else are they supposed to do? They can’t possibly take on the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah-Russian axis all by themselves. They tried for a while and got nowhere, and it’s finally over.
The US government saw this coming, of course, even while trying to downplay it, so Congress struck preemptively with the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, which will impose sanctions on any foreign banks that do business with Hezbollah.
Iran can do business with Hezbollah without using banks, of course, first and foremost by continuing to transfer an unlimited amount of sophisticated weapons as it has been doing all along anyway. Even if Iran were to use the international banking system, you can bet your bottom dollar that the US will pretend it’s not happening, at least for a while, to prevent the painstakingly negotiated nuclear deal from unraveling.
Lebanon may not be the most crucial country according to narrowly defined American interests, but like Tunisia, it’s one of the few Arab countries that has had a real shot at building something resembling a democratic system during the last couple of years. Lebanon is divided against itself, though, as it always has been, and Syria and Iran are aggressively and even violently backing the anti-Western and anti-democratic side. With no one supporting Lebanon’s pro-Western and pro-democratic side, there was ever only one possible outcome.
The West’s current mood of conflict avoidance is perfectly understandable, and it’s all-too human, but it’s no more effective than conflict avoidance in interpersonal relationships. The problem is not being resolved. It’s left to fester and worsen instead.
Weak states like Qatar have no choice but to engage in perennial conflict avoidance, but since ancient times Foreign Policy 101 has demanded that great powers reward their friends and punish their enemies. Leaders who cleverly attempt to defy gravity will deserve everything they’re going to get.