By Majid Rafizadeh
December 17, 2018
Iran’s current efforts to increase its influence in Lebanon have not been adequately addressed by the international community and some media outlets. For almost seven months, Lebanon has been struggling to form a government. The political deadlock forced Lebanese President Michel Aoun to intervene.
“The risks are greater than we can bear,” he warned. “We’re launching an initiative… and it has to succeed, because if it doesn’t… there will be a catastrophe. We want to say it with all frankness, and this is the reason for my intervention.”
This is not the first time Lebanon has had difficulty forming a government. One of the major players in such political wrangling is the Iran-backed Shiite party Hezbollah, which controls the majority of seats in Lebanon’s Parliament. One of the key hurdles is linked to Hezbollah’s demands for an additional Cabinet seat. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who is mandated to lead the formation of the government, has rejected this demand.
It is inconceivable that Hezbollah’s decisions are made without the blessings and instructions of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), particularly given the financial, military and political investments that Tehran has made in the Lebanese group.
When the US was contemplating imposing sanctions on Hezbollah’s financial dealings, its leader Hassan Nasrallah surprisingly admitted to the major role Iran plays, saying: “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Hezbollah’s survival is most likely contingent on that of the Iranian regime. As Nasrallah stated: “As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it.”
The formation of a government is an opportunity for Iran to increase its influence in Lebanon via Hezbollah. The more Cabinet seats granted to Tehran’s allies, and the more concessions Lebanese authorities give, the more power Iran wields. This allows Tehran to influence Lebanon’s domestic and foreign policies, and to further spread its revolutionary principles and Shiism in the country.
It is in Tehran’s interests that Lebanon undergoes a government crisis from time to time. A weaker Lebanese state provides a ripe environment for Iran to increase its influence and further empower its proxies and militias in the region. As such, Iran strives for political instability in the region.
Tehran has also been expanding its military influence in Lebanon to an unprecedented level. To prevent detection, it is reportedly using its commercial airlines to smuggle arms, and the materials necessary to make them, into Lebanon.
Tehran is most likely trying to manufacture sophisticated weapons in Lebanon instead of transferring them. This will reduce Tehran’s financial costs, and the chances of being tracked by the international community. It is likely trying to create a permanent military base in Lebanon.
Tehran has shifted its focus back to Lebanon because it believes it has won the war in Syria. The international community ought to pressure Hezbollah and hold Tehran accountable for intervening in Lebanon’s politics and smuggling arms into the country.