Inside the West’s last gambit in Lebanon

August 10, 2020 - 22:32

TEHRAN - As Lebanon plunges into a politico-economic turmoil in the aftermath of a massive explosion at Beirut port, the West scrambles to make a last-ditch effort to disarm the Hezbollah movement, a former diplomat who served in Lebanon told the Tehran Times.

August 4 is likely to go down in history as a day when the Lebanese capital city of Beirut was rocked by an explosion that destroyed much of the city’s downtown in the blink of an eye and paved the way for some Lebanese political factions to disrupt the existing order by blaming another Lebanese faction – Hezbollah- for the worsening crisis.
Much criticism was leveled against Hezbollah immediately after the news broke that Beirut port was razed to the ground by a suspected blast despite the fact that the port was totally under the control of Hezbollah’s rival faction, al-Mostaqbal.

“The head of Beirut port is closely allied to the al-Mostaqbal bloc,” Amir Mousavi, a former Iranian diplomat, told the Tehran Times, adding that al-Mostaqbal-backed officials at the port didn’t inform the Lebanese government that highly explosive materials were stored in a warehouse at Beirut port. The former diplomat also said that evidence suggests that al-Mostaqbal-backed officials were probably behind the deadly explosion.

However, al-Mostaqbal and its leader Saad al-Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, managed to escape criticism over the blast. Instead, they are blaming the government of Hassan Diab, which is supported by Hezbollah.

Analysts believe that Hezbollah and its allies in the government, including President Michel Aoun, seek to maintain peace and stability by encouraging Hassan Diab to continue to fulfill his job as prime minister, even though Diab is considering resigning.

In an attempt to defuse tensions, Diab said that he will request an early parliamentary election, a move that would change the political balance in the country and bring new figures to power. Diab’s request came at a time when the country is facing a multifaceted crisis. On Saturday, angry protesters clashed with security forces and stormed many ministries.

“We cannot get out of this crisis without early parliamentary elections,” the prime minister said in a televised speech, adding, “On Monday, I will propose to cabinet a draft bill for early parliamentary polls.”

The early election requires the dissolution of parliament. Until Monday afternoon, this requirement was not met. Many members of the Parliament from rival factions have submitted their resignations in a protest over the government’s handling of the blast. But these resignations don’t mean that the Parliament is on the verge of dissolution, Mohammad Mahdi Shariatmadar, a former Iranian diplomat who served in Lebanon, told the Tehran Times. Shariatmadar added that the suspension of Parliament’s sessions requires that at least 65 MPs submit their resignation.  

Aside from the Parliament, the resignation of Diab’s cabinet was also the subject of speculation. Conflicting reports have been published in the Lebanese media on the possible resignation of Diab’s cabinet.

With media outlets speculating about Diab’s departure, it seems that the Lebanese prime minister, who is known for his political intransigence, is succumbing to pressure. He has been under fire since the latest visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Beirut during which he refused to accept the French demands.

“Aoun and Diab have no agreement on the dissolution of Parliament, and Diab’s call for early election came apparently without coordination with Aoun and Hezbollah,” said Shariatmadar, who was Iran’s cultural attaché in Lebanon as recently as 2018.

Diab succeeded al-Hariri after the latter resigned from his post as prime minister amid widespread protests in November 2019. Ever since his appointment as prime minister, he has faced tremendous pressures from al-Hariri’s allies, who saw him as a threat to their traditional grip on Lebanon’s premiership. The Beirut blast provided them with an opportunity to topple the Diab cabinet, which began to lose its ministers one after another in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.

Lebanese analysts believe that the explosion was the straw that broke the camel’s back and thus Diab’s resignation was only a matter of time.

But Diab is not the only target of pro-Western factions. It became clear that Hezbollah has become another target for these factions and their external supporters like the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Analysts and former diplomats believe that pro-Western factions, along with their external backers, are exploiting the Beirut blast to mobilize the public against Hezbollah in a bid to disarm it.

“All efforts to expel Hezbollah from power and disarm it have failed and thus this [exploitation] is apparently a last-ditch to disarm it,” said Shariatmadar, adding that rival groups and foreign countries make efforts to exploit the blast to damage Hezbollah’s reputation.

According to Shariatmadar, when Hezbollah’s rivals failed to lay the blame for the blast on the movement, they began to instigate riots, and during the riots, they did provocative things like hanging a cardboard cutout of Lebanese spiritual leaders.

“At the political level, Hezbollah took a defensive position and reigned in its forces in a bid to calm tensions and maintain the status quo,” said the former cultural attaché, noting that escalation in Lebanon is not in the interest of any party, including the world powers who leap at any opportunity to denounce and undermine Hezbollah.   

Referring to the plots being hatched against Hezbollah, Shariatmadar went further to say, “They brought their forces to the streets to pave the way for a conflict with Hezbollah and to show that Lebanon needs to be a protectorate again.”

He also said that the old plans to destroy Hezbollah no longer work, that’s why the group’s enemies struggle to destroy and disarm it through a civil war, but Hezbollah is well aware of this plot and is making efforts to distance itself from internal conflicts.

Shariatmadar pointed out that Hezbollah has arms and that it is able to defend itself, but its arms are not to be used in internal disputes. Instead, he said, they are to be used only against foreign enemies including Israel.

“Hezbollah pursues coexistence in Lebanon”, the former diplomat noted.