by Seth Frantzman
When Hezbollah needs to show its muscle, it will, and the army or others will back down. After all, no one wants another civil war.
Iran and its allies are concerned that protests will challenge its attempts to slowly consume Lebanon and Iraq. Any mass mobilization of young people or anyone who wants to dissent must be crushed. In Iraq, it is being crushed with bullets and tear gas canisters purposely fired at people's heads.
In Lebanon, in front of the world's media where Hezbollah tries to pretend it is a normal political party "defending" Lebanon, it is crushed differently. But in the end, Hezbollah, the "resistance," is only good at bullying average people and silencing them, just as it silenced former prime minister Rafic Hariri with a car bomb in 2005. Today, Rafic's son, Saad, is set to resign as prime minister. It has been more than 14 years since his father was murdered and the rage from the murder helped push Syria to leave Lebanon and momentarily left Hezbollah stunned.
Iran is concerned that protests will challenge its attempts to slowly consume Lebanon and Iraq.
It showed its strength on Tuesday after a week of protests had left Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wondering what to do. Nasrallah needs to pose as if he is resisting Israel, not as if he is a stagnating oligarch thirsty for power in Lebanon and seeking to wrap Hezbollah's tentacles around the country. So when young people came to the streets and inspired Lebanon in the last week, those people had to be stopped, lest they take away the crown of sectarianism that Hezbollah wears. Human chains and people doing nice things in Beirut, things not involving showing off rifles and missiles and talking of martyrdom, the way Hezbollah does in its rallies, were looked on with suspicion by Hezbollah.
Since Tuesday morning, tensions boiled over between Hezbollah, Amal and the protesters in Beirut. Tents were attacked and security forces "unable" to stop the attackers. In reality, the security forces could but they know their place. When Hezbollah needs to show its muscle, it will, and the army or others will back down. After all, no one wants another civil war. Attacks on the protest tents were caught on video in Beirut. It was an organized mob attempt to stifle the protest. It is a reminder of the 2008 clashes in Lebanon between the Future Party and Hezbollah, which also led to Hezbollah entering west Beirut and showing its ability to project power. This is the Iranian model, one perfected in suppressing protests in December 2018 and in 2009.
So far, Hezbollah's tactic was to send goons to attack the protesters who pretend to be locals. They are reticent at a full confrontation with security forces in areas like Riad al-Solh square. Now all eyes turn to Hariri and, of course, what comes next. But Hariri knows what happens if he does anything too aggressive or confrontational. He'll end up like his father. He'll end up like Samir Kassir, Pierre Gemayel Jr., Kamal Jumblatt and all the rest who have been assassinated over the years in Lebanon.
Seth Frantzman, a Middle East Forum writing fellow, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting & Analysis.
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