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Election setback for Hezbollah

May 21, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Hezbollah does not hide its open affiliation with Iran - as these Hezbollah youth demonstrate - but the Middle Easterners are tired of the poverty, war and chaos that Iranian proxies bring to the countries they operate in. (Photo: nsf2019, Shutterstock)
Hezbollah does not hide its open affiliation with Iran - as these Hezbollah youth demonstrate - but the Middle Easterners are tired of the poverty, war and chaos that Iranian proxies bring to the countries they operate in. (Photo: nsf2019, Shutterstock)

Update from AIJAC

 

05/22 #03

 

In the Lebanese election on Saturday, May 14, allies of the Iranian proxy terror group Hezbollah – which effectively dominates that failing nation – appear to have suffered major setbacks. This Update looks at what this may mean – and also includes some thoughts from an Iranian dissident regarding the latest wave of unrest in Iran itself.

We lead with veteran Lebanese journalist and author Hanin Ghaddar, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ghaddar looks at the picture of setbacks suffered by Hezbollah allies across Lebanon, including even in the Shi’ite community Hezbollah has long dominated. She is optimistic that an opportunity for change in Lebanon may have been created, but warns that Hezbollah may use delaying and blocking tactics to obstruct any reform,  and urges international pressure to prevent this. For Ghaddar’s valuable insights into the meaning of this election, CLICK HERE. Ghaddar and two other Lebanon experts also had a useful discussion of Hezbollah’s declining dominance of Shi’ite circles just before the election.

Next up is Jerusalem Post strategic affairs analyst Seth Frantzman looking in more detail at how Hezbollah may react to this election setback. He warns that Hezbollah might either step up the repression and murder of opponents or provoke a crisis with Israel in Syria in the wake of this election. He also explains this election result as reflecting the fact that the Lebanese are tired of the tyranny, war and chaos Hezbollah has caused in seeking to turn Lebanon into an Iranian base. For his cogent analysis in full,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, Iranian dissident Hossein Ronaghi offers a powerful critique of the current discussion of lifting the terrorist designation from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as part of nuclear negotiations. Ronaghi was imprisoned by the IRGC in February after writing a previous article calling attention to the appalling human rights situation of the Iranian people. Ronaghi also offers some thoughts about the latest wave of economic unrest currently sweeping Iran. For this moving must-read plea for help for Iranians suffering under the Islamic regime, CLICK HERE.

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What Hezbollah’s Parliamentary Loss Means for Lebanon

by Hanin Ghaddar

PolicyWatch 3612
May 16, 2022

The voting results provide even more hope for change than meets the eye, though the winners will need international help to prevent Hezbollah from obstructing the next steps.


Independent former Lebanese PM Tammam Salam votes in Beruit on Saturday. Independents like Salam will have much increased power in the new parliament at the expense of Hezbollah allies (Photo: Ali Chehade, Shutterstock). 

On May 15, Hezbollah suffered a major defeat in Lebanon’s parliamentary election, losing not only its majority control of the legislature but also all of its non-Shia-Muslim allies. Despite low turnout, threats of violence, financial difficulties, and growing national despair, the people voted for change, choosing reforms over Hezbollah and its ever-growing military arsenal.

From a distance, one might conclude that the major political parties managed to maintain substantial parliamentary blocs. Yet a closer look at the details reveals that a number of significant changes will mark Lebanon’s new political scene.

First, Hezbollah lost the Christian cover that has enabled it to manipulate various levers of power and flout the constitution, including the arms that make it the country’s most potent military force. Previously, the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement, headed by Gebran Bassil, enjoyed the majority of Christian representation in parliament, but Samir Geagea’s “Lebanese Forces” party will now claim that mantle, winning more than twenty seats compared to thirteen for the FPM. Bassil’s loss will also affect his ambitions to win this fall’s presidential election.

Second, Druze areas in the Chouf and Aley districts witnessed real breakthroughs by the opposition, with three seats going to independents—Mark Daou, Najat Aoun Saliba, and Halime Kaakour. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt maintained his representation as well. Even more notable were the losses by Wiam Wahab and Talal Arslan, two key allies of Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. In fact, Assad lost traditional allies all across Lebanon, such as Assaad Hardan, Elie Ferzli, and Faisal Karami.

Third, in Beirut’s western second district, Sunni voters defied former prime minister Saad Hariri’s calls to boycott the election, and many of their votes went to new independent candidates, including big wins for Ibrahim Mneimneh and Melhem Khalaf. Hezbollah had its eye on this district, where it worked hard to boost its own Sunni candidates and hoped that low overall turnout among this community would help compensate for its expected loss of Christian allies. Ultimately, the group aimed to cultivate a significant Sunni bloc via wins in Beirut, Tripoli, West Beqa, and Saida-Jezzine. Yet its plan to penetrate the Sunni street failed, and the majority of its Sunni candidates lost. As for Hariri, his exit from the country’s political scene is now finalized.

Fourth, the south brought the biggest surprise. For the first time ever, Hezbollah’s joint list with allied party Amal lost seats to two outside candidates, Elias Jradeh and Firas Hamdan. This setback came despite the many violations committed by Hezbollah-Amal representatives inside and outside the voting stations.

So what does all this mean? Hezbollah lost nearly everywhere in Lebanon, and although it managed to force the preservation of its twenty-seven-member Shia bloc in parliament, its support appears to be slipping even among this core constituency. Compared to the 2018 election, all Shia districts witnessed lower turnout, indicating that a considerable silent majority is dissatisfied with the group politically.


The largest community in each Lebanese electorate, by qada and/or “minor district”. Based on 2017 data.  Green=Sunni, Purple=Shia, Blue=Druze, Yellow=Maronite, Orange=Greek Orthodox, Red=Armenian Orthodox (Image: Wikimedia commons)

Moreover, the new independent members of parliament generally do not abide by sectarian identities or political affiliations. This is a big break from the opposition’s former “March 14” coalition, which was larger but definitely more sectarian. In addition to new civil society representatives, a combination of winning factions—Samy Gemayel’s Kataeb Party, traditional independent candidates, the new anti-Hezbollah Sunni bloc, and the Lebanese Forces with their largest bloc yet—could have a real chance to take Lebanon in a new direction. The formation of the next government, the outcome of the presidential election, and, most imminently, the selection of the next speaker of parliament will go a long way toward determining the horizons of this potential change.

Current speaker Nabih Berri, the head of Amal, can no longer guarantee holding that post for an eighth time—at least not unless he is willing to compromise with Jumblatt and Geagea. The challenge remains agreeing on another Shia candidate (as the constitution mandates for this post) when all of the Shia members are members of Hezbollah or Amal. After their election victories were announced, Geagea, Gemayel, and Tripoli Sunni politician Ashraf Rifi publicly promised their constituencies that they would not repeat the previous mistake of allowing Berri to remain speaker. If all opposition forces decide to reject Berri and take the daring step of agreeing on a single nominee, the parliament might finally see a new speaker—a development that would greatly affect Amal’s internal politics, popular support, and relationship with Hezbollah.

The new majority, although fragmented, shares many of the same views regarding reforms and Hezbollah’s arms. If they manage to coordinate, they could even spark a new discussion on national defense strategy, focusing on Hezbollah’s arsenal while also addressing the role of the Lebanese Armed Forces, the appointment of key security and financial officials, and, most important, what kind of leader they want to emerge from the presidential election.

The main obstacle to such momentum will be a humiliated and anxious Hezbollah. Having lost this round, the group will no doubt use all of its tools to influence the next steps, including threats of violence. Yet its old formula of bullets vs. ballots—which worked after the 2005 and 2009 elections—might not be as successful this time around, simply because the group’s political allies can no longer provide cover.

Hezbollah could also play another game at which it has long excelled: delaying key processes by blocking decisions and creating vacuums in government institutions. It has used such deadlocks to affect government formation and presidential elections many times before. This time, it might try to link those two events in order to force a compromise that guarantees its preferred presidential candidate a win. Unfortunately, this scenario could obstruct reforms and political change, ensuring that the promising electoral outcome is not properly reflected in state institutions. More international pressure is therefore needed immediately to prevent an institutional vacuum and discourage any compromises that threaten to cripple the movement toward change.

Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute and author of its recent study Hezbollahland: Mapping Dahiya and Lebanon’s Shia Community.


Lebanon elections: If Hezbollah feels it failed, will it react? – analysis

 

Is it possible that Hezbollah may begin a new wave of assassinations if it fears critics against it are rising in Lebanon?

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

Jerusalem Post, MAY 16, 2022 16:39

 

Reports that Hezbollah and its allies have not performed as well as expected in the Lebanese elections may have ramifications. The pro-Iranian group may suffer a setback, the first in a decade or more.

Hezbollah has tried to consolidate power over all institutions in Lebanon, either directly using the weapons it has, or through partnerships with Druze and Christian politicians. Now, the terrorist group may be losing steam.

Pro-Iranian groups in the region are suffering setbacks because people are tired of the poverty, war and chaos they bring. Iran’s policy is to go into countries, find local groups that can be provided weapons and then use them to hijack the country like an internal mafia army. Then, once Iran has its allies in power, or holding a part of the government, it uses them to siphon off resources from the country, bankrupt it, hollow it out and turn it into a shell.

Once the ruined country is a shell, the Iranians blame Israel and the US and then use this as an excuse to find “resistance” forces in the country, pouring in arms. A bankrupt country is then taken over by armed militias that put up checkpoints around their areas.

Then they stockpile weapons, fund extremism and begin to sell and traffic drugs from the shell of the country, which then falls into poverty and sectarian chaos. Iran wins when countries fall apart.

Iran’s goal was to destroy Lebanon and turn a peaceful, successful state into an Iranian base. It did the same in Iraq with the Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of militias. It then got the militias into parliament via the Fatah Alliance and groups such as the Badr Organization. In Yemen, it uses the Houthis.

Lebanon has been bankrupted, and Hezbollah even helped cause the massive explosion in Beirut’s port via its corruption of institutions. It illegally occupies southern Lebanon and stockpiles missiles and drones. But when it comes to elections, it appears that some people are not entirely happy with what Hezbollah did to Lebanon in the 22 years since Israel withdrew from its southern region in 2000.

IN THE old days, the ruination of Lebanon was said to be acceptable because Hezbollah was “resisting” Israel. According to that logic, even if the country was an armed terrorist base, this was okay because the excuse was to fight Israel.

The Gaza Strip was also destroyed by Iranian-backed Hamas under the same excuse. It had to “resist,” so Gaza had to be held hostage. Yemen must “resist,” so it is hollowed out. Iraq is “resisting,” so it is poor and ruined.

Countries that prefer peace and stability can have education, the arts and profit. Iran’s friends have only poverty. But when there are elections – when Tehran can’t control everything – the people sometimes resist Iran’s control.

In Lebanon, it seems Iran knows that its friends did not perform well. Iranian pro-government news agencies such as Tasnim and Fars have not lauded Hezbollah’s success. Iran sees failure, but the question is whether Hezbollah will accept its failure at the ballot box or provoke a new conflict to distract.

In the past, the terrorist group did everything possible to hijack the presidency of Lebanon and even used weapons to show its power in Beirut. Hezbollah refuses to concede that anyone else might control Lebanon.

The election returns will be monitored carefully to see how the sectarian reserved seats are divided. It appears that Christian parties that oppose Hezbollah may have defeated those that back it. Similarly, the Druze and Sunni vote will be closely watched.

“An opposition candidate also made a breakthrough in an area of southern Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah,” France24 reported.

Lokman Slim, the prominent Lebanese Shi’ite activist and Hezbollah critic assassinated in 2021. Could Hezbollah’s loss drive the group to carry out a new wave of assassinations of critics? (Photo: Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

“Elias Jradi, an eye doctor, won an Orthodox Christian seat previously held by Assaad Hardan of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, a close Hezbollah ally and MP since 1992, two Hezbollah officials said. ‘It’s a new beginning for the south and for Lebanon as a whole,’ Jradi told Reuters,” the report said.

In the past, Hezbollah has assassinated critics such as Lokman Slim. Is it possible that it may begin a new wave of assassinations if it fears critics are rising in Lebanon? Or could Hezbollah provoke a crisis in the Golan Heights where it has agents in Syria?

Much remains to be cleared up about how Hezbollah will react. Its leadership is aging, and it has fewer friends in the region. The only thing it still has is its illegal masses of weapons.


Iran Jailed Me for My Last Op-Ed

 

I was released on bail after a week, but I won’t give legitimacy to the IRGC by attending my hearing.

By Hossein Ronaghi

Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2022


Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) military units on parade: Those who seek to differentiate between different parts of the IRGC risk emboldening it to act with greater brutality toward Iranians, Ronaghi argues. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

When I walked out of my apartment in Tehran on the morning of Feb. 23, plainclothes agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surrounded me and rushed me into a van. This is the group that many in the U.S. foreign-policy elite argue should be removed from the American terrorist sanctions list.

A few months before, I acknowledged in these pages that the article I was writing “could land me back in prison,” but contended that “if that’s the price” of telling the truth about Iran, “it will be worth it.” I have been arrested by the Islamic dictatorship in Iran four times before and have been in the custody of most of the “national security” agencies, but this time they took me to a prison I had never been to, which had much higher security. There, the intelligence service of the IRGC kept me imprisoned for more than a week.

I still believe what I suffered was worth bringing the real Iran to light, but am appalled that many in the U.S. are arguing for giving my captors leniency.

Some proponents of this position argue that sanctions on the IRGC are merely symbolic and do little to hold the IRGC accountable. As someone who was recently in its prisons, I can assure you that these sanctions are well-deserved. Other apologists say they are only political. They aren’t. The designation of these criminals as terrorists not only limits their access to resources but sends a message that the world is watching, raising the stakes of the regime’s crimes. The designation’s potential removal has emboldened the IRGC to act with greater brutality toward Iranians, knowing that international condemnations could soon have little bite.

Some also argue there is a distinction between the Quds Force, the IRGC’s external branch, and its intelligence services, which carry out domestic operations. But the difference between the part of the IRGC that represses foreigners and the one repressing us at home is semantics.

I saw it firsthand. My charges? “Acting against national security,” “propagating against the ‘holy system’ of the Islamic Republic,” and having four bottles of booze. This last charge is true and the punishment for it is nothing light. If certified, I could be lashed (perhaps publicly) 70 to 80 times. Last year a man was executed for consuming alcohol. In total, I face more than five years in prison. Currently I’m out on bail, but I won’t be going back for my hearing. I won’t lend this “justice” system or regime legitimacy they don’t deserve.

Throughout my interrogations, my captors asked repeatedly about my piece in the Journal. How had I published it? Who was I working with? They couldn’t believe Iranians were speaking up. I am immensely grateful to the journalists of this paper who spoke up for me when I was jailed.

This is the type of journalistic ethic I had written about in my piece that is so rarely found in Western coverage of Iran. I didn’t see the New York Times say anything about my case or the plight of other Iranian prisoners of conscience. When Iranians speak out against the journalists who attempt to silence our movement by ignoring us, this is what we mean.


Iranian blogger, free speech activist and frequent political prisoner Hussein Ronaghi (Photo: Twitter)

I was inspired by the reactions of Iranians. In decades past, as the dictatorship jailed, disappeared or murdered writers, activists and others who spoke out, Iranians were silenced by fear. No longer.

As I write this, Iranians across the country are taking to the streets in nationwide antiregime protests. Multiple peaceful protesters have been killed. As IRGC-affiliated agents fire openly upon peaceful protesters, Iranians are pushing back and standing up to the security forces. Protesters chant “Don’t be afraid, we’re all together!” and say to the regime, “Be afraid, we’re all together!”

Iranians aren’t only saying the truth about our home. We’re also speaking out about what we ask of the free world. As the American president considers removing my captors and the murderers of peaceful protesters from the U.S. sanctions list, let me say clearly: This is not what Iranians want. Democrats can say this is best for us, but we are sick of being patronized. Sending our dictator and his regime billions of dollars is not in our best interest.

We are willing to live under the economic pressure of sanctions if it weakens the regime holding us hostage and cuts off some of the resources used to jail us, torture us and shoot us in the streets. If these sanctions help us win the freedom we are struggling for and the secular democracy we deserve, the financial cost is well worth it.

The regime said my piece was “acting against the national interests of Iran.” The only people doing that are those who support the regime—which, sadly, includes the U.S. administration. For us freedom fighters who long looked to America for inspiration, we find little to look up to in the current leadership, but we believe the American people are good and care about supporting others around the world who want freedom.

This is our message from inside Iran: Don’t enrich our torturers, don’t capitulate to our captors. You would be sacrificing your own national security and selling out the Iranian people at the same time. And when the regime shuts down the internet during our protests and tries to murder us under the cover of darkness, don’t stay silent.

Mr. Ronaghi is an Iranian blogger and freedom-of-speech activist.

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