One can draw a clear line between the increase of Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon and the consequent increase in economic and other crises affecting the country. It is true that not every time two things coincide there is necessarily a correlation. However, it appears that Hezbollah’s role is the key to the hollowing out and destruction of Lebanon.
There are several facts here. Lebanon recently went days without power, and the army is now supplying fuel. However, that doesn’t solve the long-term energy problem and the country’s debts. Lebanon has trouble importing fuel supplies, and the power stations are out of fuel. This has set Lebanon on the path to constant and increasing crises. Yet it is not some blockaded country, such as the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
It’s worth considering this fact: Hamas, like Hezbollah, is backed by Iran and has been encouraged to fight Israel at the cost of harming the people it governs. That means the destruction of Lebanon and Gaza is in Iran’s interests.
However, whereas Gaza is indeed under blockade and has a constant fuel and electricity crisis, there is no excuse for why Lebanon has become an economic basket case. There are Lebanese who are incredibly wealthy abroad, and there is evidence that many have simply sent their money abroad, not investing in the failing state.
At the same time, Hezbollah has sponged up what remains in Lebanon, grabbing political power and leveraging it to have a stranglehold on the presidency and other parts of government, conducting its own foreign policy and involving Lebanon in the troubles of Syria’s civil war.
It’s not clear what effect the destruction of the Syrian economy has had on Lebanon. But it appears that the Syrian crisis has been outsourced to Lebanon, with Syria using Lebanon as an outlet for its problems as Damascus increasingly came under US and other sanctions.
This is a reversal from the period when Syria sent its army to occupy Lebanon. In those days, Syria was ostensibly the stronger player. But after 2005, when Syria left in the wake of Hezbollah assassinating former prime minister Rafic Hariri, things went from bad to worse.
Hezbollah launched a war against Israel in 2006 and then fought street fights with the opposition in Beirut in 2008. Eventually, Hezbollah robbed Lebanon of a functioning presidency and was likely behind the massive explosion in Beirut Port last year, leading to a political crisis that robbed the country of a functioning prime minister as well.
But this was good news for Hezbollah. The wealthier Sunni and Christian communities might have once opposed Hezbollah, which is backed by the Shi’ite minority. But now, Hezbollah is winning as Lebanon becomes poorer. Iran’s proxies always win when countries are bankrupt and poor. That is why wherever Iran sends its support, the country falls apart.
Consider Yemen, Iraq, Syria, the Palestinians and Lebanon. In each case, Iran’s goal was to weaken institutions and replace them with corrupt, murderous militias. Bankrupt the country and siphon off its wealth back to Tehran.
Iran is a political-military version of junk bonds and corporate raiders that were popular in the US in the 1980s. Iran raids a country with proxies, holds it hostage through buying up some shares and then saddles it with debts and lets it stumble on like a zombie company, hollowing it out of good assets and selling them all off.
That is Iran’s strategy in a nutshell. It uses a strategy borrowed from corporate raiding to destroy places such as Lebanon and bankrupt them. Lebanon can’t be bailed out though, because all the bailing will go back to Tehran.
In essence, this is the message of the recent electricity crisis. There is no way to fully help Lebanon, and its continuing crises will risk spreading worse problems across the region.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum