How Will Iran React to Hezbollah’s Waning Influence in Lebanon?
The Beirut explosion that took the lives of 160 of the city’s residents has already sparked change in Lebanon and days of violent protests. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his resignation and that of his government whilst addressing the nation on Monday, and he described the blast as a “disaster beyond measure.”
But the alarming rate at which political developments are taking place in Lebanon has also caught the attention of Iran. Tehran has already called on the international community to refrain from politicizing last week’s explosion in Beirut. They also pleaded with Washington to start lifting sanctions against Lebanon.
Tehran Accuses Macron of ‘Interventionism’
Iran will begin to monitor events in Lebanon closely as Tehran is one of the main sponsors of Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Islamist party and militant group which has influence over the Lebanese Government, a radio and a satellite station, and social services. They have been described as a “state within a state.” The Washington Institute discovered that the Iranian Government provides the terrorist group with $100 million per year. It is no wonder that Tehran is alarmed by French President Emmanuel Macron’s “interventionism.”
Iran did not attend an emergency donor conference on Sunday led by Macron. The French leader assured the event’s audience that he would closely monitor how aid was being spent. The Iranian Government itself has so far provided Lebanon with $298 million for immediate humanitarian relief.
Lebanon Becoming Part of Larger Geopolitical Fracas
It is more than likely that Iran will use Lebanon as an opportunity to enter into an international dispute with France, should the latter choose to increase its level of intervention in its former colony. Iran’s ultra-conservative paper Kayhan has already stated that Macron’s proposed reforms in Lebanon would result in the elimination of Hezbollah and the “rescue of the Israeli regime.” Therefore, the French President’s attempts to curb Hezbollah’s influence over Lebanon could be met with rebukes from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the future.
Rouhani will be keen to clash with France over who leads Lebanon in the future. This is a tactic that Tehran has deployed before when they helped Hezbollah put Diab into power last October. With the Lebanese Prime Minister leading a caretaker government until he can find a successor, there is no doubt that Iran will do all it can to prevent a reformist candidate from breaking Hezbollah’s grip over Lebanon.
Iran may well increase the amount of funding Hezbollah currently receives from Tehran, as the terrorist group has been used as a means to crush protests in the past. Hezbollah fighters who returned to Lebanon from the Syrian battlefield last year attacked protesters such as poor Shi’ites who have historically supported the militias. Prior to the Beirut explosion, The Soufan Center stated that the use of violence against protesters last November reduced the numbers of protests in Lebanon.
Iran Won’t Loosen its Grip on Hezbollah
Nonetheless, Iran’s ability to fund Hezbollah will depend greatly upon its economic fortunes. Focus Economics believes that US sanctions and the coronavirus will cause the Iranian economy to contract sharply for the third consecutive year by 7.3 percent.
Hezbollah’s funding may also be affected by US-Iranian tensions if Donald Trump is re-elected in November. Trump claims that he will ‘have a deal with Iran within four weeks’ if he wins this year’s US election. But it is unlikely that Washington will approve of a deal that lifts sanctions against Tehran just so that they can continue to fund terrorist groups, which was a flaw with Obama’s Iran Deal. The US President may well want to make it harder for the Iranian regime to continue to fund terrorist organizations.
By proposing to reform Lebanon’s political structure, Macron may have unintentionally paved the way for a power struggle between France and Iran over the former French colony. Tehran is already winning due to Hezbollah’s strong grip over the country. To prevent Beirut’s explosion from becoming a wasted opportunity to reform Lebanon, Macron must prevail.