A demonstrator holds a Lebanese Army flag during a protest in Tripoli. Picture: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Lebanon’s geo-strategic importance in the Middle East is what constantly makes it the vortex of a power play between the regional powers, and prevents its people from realising true self-determination. 

For as long as foreign powers continue to fund and arm their proxies on the ground, the nation will never be at peace. While the recent protests in Lebanon are organic and genuine in their demands for economic reform and a new political system, the manipulation of foreign powers behind the scenes is due to the failure of the Saudi-US-Israeli axis to weaken Iran’s influence in the region.

The priority of these powers in recent years has been to weaken and destroy Iran’s hegemonic influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. They failed to weaken Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, which is why they have now turned their sites on destroying Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon. Iran has managed to extend its hegemony in Iraq through its proxies known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, which are the Shiite forces created to fight against the Islamic State. Iran also wields significant influence with the Iraqi government, and Iranian backed militia commanders now sit in parliament and government. 

It is ironic that in less than a month, demonstrations against corruption and a lack of economic reform erupted in both Iraq and Lebanon, rocking Shia cities and towns. Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Iraq recently demonstrated against the political elites and their failure to provide service and rampant corruption and unemployment. The response of the security forces was harsh, with over 100 demonstrators killed. The Western media narrative was swift  in the wake of the protests arguing that “Iranian power can no longer be tolerated,” and “wherever Iran wins mayhem prevails.” The US magazine Foreign Policy was quick to argue, “when a country’s support base can no longer accept Iran as its ruler, the international community needs to take note.” Despite the fact that the protests in Iraq were genuine in their demands, reports are emerging which suggest that the protests had been engineered months in advance. 

In Syria, after a brutal eight year war in which Saudi backed forces and other Islamist militant groups fought a vicious war against President Bashar Al Assad’s government forces and Hezbollah militias, Syria and Iran have gained the upper hand. Syrian and Hezbollah forces slowly besieged one rebel-held town after another, with many opposition fighters now coalescing in Idlib in their last stand. Now that the Kurds had to turn to Assad’s forces for protection after Turkey invaded Northern Syria, it provided an opening for Syrian troops to enter the Northern areas previously controlled by Kurdish troops, and make a push to finally extend Syria’s sovereignty over the entire of its territory. This has been a major setback for the Saudi-US-Israel axis that fought through its proxies to overthrow the Assad regime and rid the country of Iranian and Russian influence. 

Having lost the battle for dominance in both Iraq and Syria, the axis is now determined to weaken Iran’s major military proxy in the region which fought so successfully in Syria - which is Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah has been remarkably successful in strengthening its political as well as military position in Lebanon. Hezbollah prevailed in last year’s elections in Lebanon, winning 13 seats and securing three cabinet posts. Hezbollah and its ally Amal have a veto over cabinet decisions, and Hezbollah has to agree before any significant policy decision is made. Hezbollah has also been politically relevant on the ground, filling in for government inactivity by providing public services in the areas of health and education. 

It goes without saying that Hezbollah’s military capacity is enormous, which is why it ensured a veto on cabinet decisions so that it cannot be disarmed. It is well known that Hezbollah is far more powerful than the nation’s military, and is well-equipped to defend Lebanon against Israel, as was the case in the month long war with Israel in 2006, and when Hezbollah liberated South Lebanon from Israeli occupation in 2000. Hezbollah has warned that in any new military conflagration with Israel there would be no more red lines, and insists that it has the capacity to do serious damage to Israeli cities. 

The Saudi-US-Israel alliance can no longer tolerate Hezbollah’s rise in Lebanon and success in the region, which is ultimately entrenching Iran’s strategic dominance. There is little doubt that plans have been afoot to destabilise Lebanon as a pretext to possible military intervention by Israel or its proxies, in order to reconfigure the balance of power and deal Hezbollah a devastating blow.

One tactic is to channel the genuine anger on the streets of Lebanon against the corruption of political elites and the failing economy, and to encourage protesters to blame Hezbollah for the fact that Lebanon is beginning to look like a failed state. Hezbollah has already found itself in a difficult position of late, having to cut salaries and services due to the US imposed sanctions on both the party and on Iran. The US has also imposed sanctions on a Lebanese bank which is accused of having ties to Hezbollah, which has left the party under financial pressure. Two US officials who were in Beirut in September claimed that sanctions would increase in order to deprive Hezbollah of its sources of income. 

Southern cities which have been a stronghold of Hezbollah such as Nabatieh and Sidon have seen Shiites protesting over the past fortnight, many expressing their anger against the economic situation in the country, as well as the corruption of Shia Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri (from the Amal movement), who has held that position for 27 years. Criticism has been levied against Hezbollah as it has seemingly turned a blind eye to his corruption and not held him and other elites to account. 

What is interesting, however, is that the US and other Western media has been perpetuating a false narrative that there have been 2 million protesters on the streets of Lebanon (out of a total population of 3.5 million), and that they have been primarily protesting against Hezbollah, which is untrue. This narrative has been driven by President Donald Trump’s former advisor on the Middle East during his election campaign, Walid Phares, who is a Lebanese American. Phares has recently called on Trump to help get rid of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and claims that activists on the ground are calling for protection for people on the streets from “Hezbollah’s violence and terrorism.”  

These developments seem to support the April reporting of Lebanese TV station Al-Jadeed, which reported that Lebanese President Michel Aoun had received a US-Israeli document outlining plans for a civil war in Lebanon with covert false flag operations and a possible Israeli invasion, or support for “democratic forces.” Those democratic forces referred to could be the Israeli-aligned Lebanese Forces Party headed by Samir Geagea, who was the only Lebanese militia leader to have been imprisoned for crimes committed during the civil war. Gegea resigned from the Lebanese political establishment this month, blaming Hezbollah for the current situation, saying, “Lebanon cannot be as effective and strong as a state as long as Hezbollah continues to be armed.”  

As the covert campaign of the US-Saudi-Israel axis to destroy Hezbollah is becoming increasingly obvious, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah is determined not to play into their hands. That means ensuring that the country does not dissolve into chaos, which would be the pretext for an outside military intervention. Hence Nasrallah has ordered his followers off the streets and to show absolute restraint.

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor