Monday, October 28, 2019

Protests in Lebanon: A wrench in Hezbollah and Iran's plans - Prof. Eyal Zisser

by Prof. Eyal Zisser

The mass protests in Lebanon and Iraq have thrown Iran and mainly Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah off balance, even to the point of alarm. Sadly, due to traditional ethnic and tribal allegiances, the angry youth in the streets aren't likely to foster any real change.

Protests in Lebanon: A wrench in Hezbollah and Iran's plans
Anti-government protesters shout slogans in Beirut, last week | Photo: AP/Hassan Ammar

Saturday saw another day of mass protests in Lebanon. The government's promises to implement economic reforms and rescind taxes, alongside threats by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that his organization won't sit idly by if the demonstrations continue, didn't stop Lebanon's youth from flooding the streets and keeping the country paralyzed.

The fact that the protests lack a guiding hand, or any discernible leadership, not to mention any defined goals aside from vague slogans calling for "change to the system in Lebanon," is making it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's also safe to assume that the bitterness, frustrations and anger harbored by the youth for politics and politicians, the same cohort of corrupt hedonists who have brought Lebanon to the precipice of economic ruin, will continue fueling the protests.

Lebanon is not alone. In Iraq, too, bloody protests have engulfed the country in recent days, spearheaded similarly by restless youth without hope. It is encouraging to see that the younger generation of Arabs refuses to continue accepting a reality of failure and backwardness.

Sadly, however, the protests won't catalyze any real change. Indeed, for these youth, like those in Lebanon, there is something stronger than enmity and rage – their sense of loyalty to family, tribe and ethnic group, coupled with fears of rival ethnic groups. Consequently, these youngsters repeatedly revert to backing the same types of leaders who have managed Lebanon's politics for hundreds of years.

Thus, even if Saad Hariri's government steps down it will only be replaced by a similar coalition comprising the same corrupt dignitaries who prioritize their own well-being over that of the country.

It is interesting to note that the demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq, beyond disquieting the corrupt politicians in both countries, have more importantly thrown Iran – and mainly Nasrallah – off balance, even to the point of alarm. When Hezbollah was created, it labelled itself the "Organization of the Oppressed on Earth."

But the organization forgot a long time ago about the oppressed on whose behalf it purported to speak. Hezbollah has been part of the Lebanese government for more than 15 years already and simply cannot shirk its responsibility for the crisis. The organization controls a sprawling apparatus of companies and social institutions, which have become corrupt and contemptible. Moreover, Hezbollah needs Lebanon to be stable to continue suckling from its udder.

The protests in Lebanon and Iraq are inconvenient from Iran's perspective. Supposedly, this is Tehran's finest hour, its bold moves now having paid off. Its aggression in the Persian Gulf has been met with forgiveness and even attempts at appeasement. Washington is pulling its troops from Syria and abandoning the arena to Iran, and isn't hiding its desire for dialogue with the Iranians.

The sense of victory in Tehran spurred IDF chief Aviv Kochavi to warn of a possible conflagration on Israel's borders. No one wants all-out war, but, in the words of Kochavi, Israel and Iran are on a collision course and there is no one out there to deter and stop the Iranians.

The protests, then, are an uncomfortable wrench in Iran and Hezbollah's plans. But we can assume, regretfully, that the protests will end with a thud and the axis of evil will continue on its path to the next objective.

Prof. Eyal Zisser


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