Lebanon’s crisis, Hezbollah and Iran
Jul 10, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update is devoted to the severe economic and political crisis in Lebanon, and how this is affecting Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy which effectively controls most of the country, as well as Iran’s larger regional plans.
We lead with top Israeli Arab Affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff, who discusses Hezbollah’s efforts to use the current crisis to make Lebanon completely subordinate to Teheran by insisting Iran is the only possible source for Lebanon’s basic needs, especially fuel. He does a good job of explaining why Lebanon is in such dire straits and why a corrupt and incompetent political class has made it impossible for the country to access international help. He also discusses a number of scenarios for Lebanon’s future – including the circumstances where Hezbollah could stage a complete political takeover. For Issacharoff’s insights in full, CLICK HERE.
Next up is an editorial from the Jerusalem Post, calling on Israel to provide aid to Lebanon, as proposed by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz. The editorial notes the reality that Hezbollah is the most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world, and has a stranglehold on much of Lebanon, but also notes some parallels between Israel and Lebanon, and a history of friendly relations many years ago. It calls on Israel and its new friends in the Arab world to seek innovative ways to assist Lebanon, and hopefully, in doing so, turn a new page and encourage a new model of coexistence. For the paper’s complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, military affairs correspondent Yaakov Lappin explores how Hamas is working with Hezbollah and Iran to study the recent Hamas-Israel conflict and jointly learn lessons that can be used in future conflicts with Israel. Quoting Israeli strategic analyst Brig. (ret) Yossi Kuperwasser, the article notes Iranian funding, training and weapons supplies for both organisations, and the way Hezbollah and Hamas have cooperated on numerous projects. Kuperwasser describes all conflict as a learning experience for militaries, says Israel has managed to stay ahead in this learning process so far, and offers some suggestions on how to continue doing so in the face of Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran cooperation. For this valuable analysis, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Another good, but slightly older, piece on Hezbollah’s efforts to use the current crisis to further bring Lebanon into the Iranian orbit comes from Brig. (ret) Dr. Shimon Shapira. Meanwhile, Israeli academic Prof. Eyal Zisser says the Lebanese collapse could take Hezbollah down with it.
- Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech calling for Lebanon to get aid from Iran, cited by Issacharoff, also included the line “There are no people in the Israeli entity, they are all occupiers and settlers.” Nasrallah also talked at length about the importance of pro-Iran information warfare in the speech.
- Power outages are causing major internal problems for the Iranian regime. Comments on this come from Michael Rubin and Seth Frantzman.
- A call to punish the Iranian regime for its lethal homophobia.
- A call for UNICEF to investigate Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad for recruiting child soldiers. More on the military training of children in summer camps in Gaza comes from American foreign policy expert Lawrence Haas and Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh.
- Israel’s new government failed in a vote this week to renew a controversial “family reunification law” in place since 2003. A good backgrounder on the vote and the lawcomes from BICOM.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Dr. Colin Rubenstein arguing the ABC complaints process needs reform on the “The Bolt Report” on Sky News.
- Oved Lobel on the international policy questions raised by the selection of brutal enforcer Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s new President, in the West Australian.
- Judy Maynard on how the Australian arm of American conspiracy theorist Lyndon Larouche’s political cult has latched onto the Australia Post/Christina Holgate saga to promote their cause.
With Lebanon in dire straits, Hezbollah seeks to cast Iran as country’s savior
Amid near-complete economic and political collapse, Tehran-backed terror group increases its hold on Lebanon and could try to have Islamic Republic fill the power vacuum
By AVI ISSACHAROFF
Times of Israel, July 8, 2021
Hezbollah is holding up Iran as Lebanon’s only possibly saviour – as in this Hezbollah parade featuring photos of Iran’s two Supreme Leaders (Photo: nsf2019 / Shutterstock.com)
Fuel prices in Lebanon rose Wednesday to new heights, with a single liter of 95-octane gasoline costing 71,600 pounds ($47) after a 45 percent price hike prompted by the ending of government subsidies. Even the price of donkeys has tripled over the past two weeks, compounding the severity of Lebanon’s economic crisis, which has brought it to the brink of complete collapse.
The disaster is seemingly being exacerbated by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, which is a central part of the government and holds significant power in the absence of a functional leadership. Hezbollah could even be forcing this paralysis in an attempt to subjugate Lebanon to Tehran.
Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis has unfolded since late 2019, spiraling out of control in this country of over 6 million, of whom more than a million are Syrian refugees. A foreign currency shortage has crippled the import-dependent economy, leaving residents struggling to find fuel, medicines and basic supplies. Daily power outages last for hours, threatening hospitals and food stores, and draping entire neighborhoods in darkness.
The World Bank called it one of the worst crises since the 1850s and described Lebanon’s economic contraction as brutal. The national currency lost nearly 95% of its value, plunging the once middle-income country into poverty. Inflation and unemployment have soared and waves of professionals have migrated abroad, seeking a better life.
The political crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a post-civil war political class that has accumulated debt and done little to encourage local industries. Banks, once a booming sector, have imposed informal capital controls and depositors are unable to freely access their accounts.
Lebanon has been promised billions in international assistance, pending a reform plan to deal with corruption. But vying for power and trading blame, the political elite never agreed.It is difficult to predict where Lebanon is headed. Recovery doesn’t seem to be in the cards so long as Hezbollah, an extremist Shiite terror group, can act with impunity, apparently including trying to turn Lebanese citizens into beggars at the Islamic Republic’s doorstep.
This isn’t new for Hezbollah. When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, it started pampering its Shiite supporters — and low-income families — with a range of benefits: a discount card for a new grocery shop chain that sells Iranian and Syrian products, new pharmacies with Iranian medications, and the brainchild of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah — a proposal to buy fuel from Iran.
Lebanese drivers queue up for scarce and very expensive fuel – Hezbollah claims to be able to solve this problem with fuel imported from Iran (Photo: JossK / Shutterstock.com)
It is doubtful this last offer is feasible, but it is designed to signal to the Lebanese population where help could come from. As all other interested parties such as Saudi Arabia and France are unwilling to aid Lebanon as long as there’s no functioning government there, Nasrallah is already trying to position himself and Iran as the country’s saviors.
Hezbollah’s growing hold and the disintegration of the Lebanese state continue a decades-long process in which the terror group has been slowly and steadily eating away at Lebanon’s sovereignty. Lebanon could be headed for a situation in which every sector and community withdraws into itself and only relies on its own people, while the state framework becomes purely theoretical.
A second scenario, slightly more violent and dangerous, would resemble the revolt of 2005, after Hezbollah members murdered then-prime minister Rafik Hariri. At the time, masses staged rallies demanding the expulsion of Syrian-backed forces from the country and the protests achieved their goal.
But that scenario today seems like complete fantasy. First of all, this isn’t a foreign army. It is a Lebanese organization that may be actively undermining the state but is nevertheless regarded by many there as a legitimate entity. Second, the masses aren’t taking to the streets right now. There are no chaotic demonstrations and no drama in the streets except for the occasional brawl at gas stations.
The third and most dangerous scenario would be a violent outburst reminiscent of the 1975 civil war or, alternatively, Hezbollah forcibly taking over central positions of power as it did against then-prime minister Fouad Siniora in 2008.
That scenario also doesn’t seem very likely. This week, the Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea — a Christian Maronite politician and one of most hated people in the country, who didn’t hesitate to slaughter innocent people in the 1970s and 1980s — erected roadblocks in the town of Zahle, bringing back forgotten memories from the civil war in the 1970s. But even Geagea, one of the most strident opponents of Hezbollah, knows his limits and is aware that his forces lack the ability to deal with the Shiite movement.
It is impossible to know what will happen in Lebanon, and there is always the possibility of good news. For example, if former prime minister Saad Hariri manages to put together a new government, that could definitely encourage Western aid to Lebanon.
Another possibility is that Iran and/or Russia will decide to intervene, which could bring some stability to Lebanon, at the expense of turning it into a province of a renewed Persian Empire.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Israel needs to help Lebanon – editorial
Hezbollah is the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world, and has a stranglehold on part of Lebanon. However, every country has extremists and local problems.
Jerusalem Post, July 7, 2021
Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up in the colours of the Lebanese flag in solidarity with the people of Beirut last year (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details)
Israel’s neighbor is in trouble, and when a neighbor needs help – even if it’s an enemy state – it is incumbent to provide assistance. In this case the neighbor is Lebanon, a state with which Israel shares many common attributes. Both Israel and Lebanon have diverse populations and complex histories. We are both part of the long trajectory of the Middle East and have civilizations that date back millennia. However, recent political divisions and the hijacking of Lebanon’s politics by Hezbollah have made relations difficult.
Now amid an unprecedented crisis, Lebanon deserves aid, and there is no better country well-placed to give that aid than Israel. Defense Minister Benny Gantz has offered to assist Lebanon as it continues to suffer from a worsening economic crisis.
“As an Israeli, as a Jew and as a human being, my heart aches seeing the images of people going hungry on the streets of Lebanon,” he wrote Sunday on Twitter. “Israel has offered assistance to Lebanon in the past, and even today we are ready to act and to encourage other countries to extend a helping hand to Lebanon so that it will once again flourish and emerge from its state of crisis.”
The next day, Gantz sent a formal proposal to UNIFIL to provide aid to Lebanon.
Even though the chances the Lebanese government will actually respond in the affirmative to Israel’s offer are close to nil, the Gantz proposal illustrates Israel’s important role as a light unto the nations, willing to do the tikkun olam that is part of Jewish tradition. As a Jewish state, we know all too well what it means to be poor, isolated, abandoned and at the mercy of things beyond our control.
Those that brush off the offer as merely a PR gimmick by Israel, one that Jerusalem knows it won’t have to go through with, are cynically missing the point.
Lebanon today is suffering. With currency exchange rates spiraling to new lows, people are losing money in their accounts. Gas prices are too high, and there are shortages. Lines are long, and the heat of the summer is making many things impossible. Violence is percolating. There is no government, and instead, Saad Hariri, who is the prime minister-designate, has had an impossible time trying to create a functioning coalition.
“The increasingly dire socioeconomic conditions risk systemic national failings with regional and potentially global effects,” the World Bank said in a report last month.
Lebanon desperately needs some assistance. According to an assessment released by UNICEF on Monday, 77% of Lebanese households don’t have enough money to buy food. As we have reported, the country’s medicine importers have warned they have run out of hundreds of essential drugs.
Electricity outages and gas shortages are commonplace, and the Lebanese Armed Forces announced it was offering tourists helicopter rides for $150 to make money.
A country in meltdown: an elderly man on the streets of Beirut selling sweets to make a few coins even as tyres burn behind him (Photo: Karim naamani / Shutterstock.com)
Of course, we cannot ignore reality. Hezbollah is the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world, and has a stranglehold on part of Lebanon. It routinely threatens to destroy Israel. Lebanon also suffers from Iran’s tentacles.
However, every country has extremists and local problems. We have an opportunity to turn a new page. Lebanon and Israel can work together on maritime disputes and other issues. Lebanese and Israelis have been friends in the past, and Jews and Shi’ites, Sunnis, Druze and Maronites, Armenians and Greek Catholics, have all had shared experiences in the past. Modern politics has hijacked this coexistence.
What is needed is a unique, unprecedented and innovative solution that will enable some support from Israel for our cousins in Lebanon. The international community could show that it doesn’t just thrive off the conflict, and step in to help as well. Human rights groups and coexistence groups can showcase their importance now to step up.
In addition, our close friends in the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan may provide a way to aid Lebanon in this time of troubles. This could build on the emerging coexistence and new ties emerging in the region and Eastern Mediterranean.
Lebanon needs help, and Israel is offering it. If only life in the Middle East was as simple as that. Perhaps with the assistance of the above bodies and countries, it can be.
After Guns Go Quiet, Hamas Works with Hizballah and Iran to Learn Lessons for Next War
by Yaakov Lappin
IPT News , July 1, 2021
Comparing notes and making plans for fighting Israel: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (Photos: Wikimediacommon, Shutterstock.com).
Over a month after the conflict between Israel and Hamas came to an end, a deceptive calm has taken hold, and a new, fateful learning competition is underway.
Hamas, the radical Islamist regime that rules Gaza, is working with its allies in the Shi’ite axis – Iran and Hizballah – to study the latest conflict and share lessons that can help in the next war.
According to an Israeli military source, Hamas is sharing its operational lessons with its allies.
Israel is sharing its own valuable lessons from the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls with the United States.
This learning competition shapes future conflicts between Israel and the terrorist armies on its borders. It also influences conflicts throughout the region, affecting any state that must face Iranian-armed, hybrid guerilla-terrorist forces.
The information sharing can help Hamas and its radical allies identify weaknesses in air defense capabilities, make new uses of combat tunnels, find new ways to use weapons such as anti-tank missiles, and search for new asymmetric warfare doctrines.
In the past, Iranian experience in producing and using rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), mortar attacks, and drones influenced Hamas’s engineers and its Gazan combat battalions.
Hizballah’s systematic use of Lebanese civilians as shields for the organization’s arsenals of rockets and missiles has inspired Hamas’s military wing to do the same in Gaza.
“In principle, every round of conflict is a learning tool. Ultimately, what we see during conflicts is the result of a learning competition between the two sides,” Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the research division in the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
“Each side learns as best as it can the lessons from the past round, and it tries to apply them in the next conflict,” said Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
While Hamas is more ideologically affiliated with the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood axis, operationally, it also is a member of the Iranian-led Shi’ite axis, Kuperwasser explained.
Iran is a chief source of funding, training, and weapons-building know-how for Hamas’s military wing, and Hizballah has cooperated with Hamas on multiple projects, such as building rocket factories and training camps.
Head of the Class
Fortunately, it is Israel that has proven so far to be the better student of past conflicts, said Kuperwasser. From the time of the 51-day, 2014 conflict with Hamas to now, Israel has remained ahead of its enemies in Gaza – Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – in terms of preventing surprises and planning capabilities.
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser: “Every round of conflict is a learning tool” but Israel has managed to learn faster than foes like Hamas and Hezbollah (Photo: AIJAC)
“It’s true that Hamas developed capabilities that were supposed to deal with the capabilities that Israel developed,” said Kuperwasser, citing its launching of heavy rocket barrages designed to overwhelm Israel’s improved Iron Dome batteries, the launching of a guided torpedo towards Israel’s offshore gas rigs, and the development of drones. Israel had operational answers to all of these attacks, which were developed with Iranian cooperation, and under Iranian guidance, he said.
“This is all an expression of a growing realization in Hamas. According to the realization, relying on the attacks that worked in 2014, such as the firing of sporadic rockets with the hope that Iron Dome would struggle to deal with this, would mean that Hamas itself would struggle to gain achievements this time around. As a result, they went for the large barrages,” he stated.
Iron Dome was able to take out 90 percent of the rockets it targeted during the latest conflict, reflecting the significant upgrades that gave it the ability to deal with large salvos.
In addition, anti-tank guided missiles arrived in Gaza with the help of elements “tied to Iran,” said Kuperwasser. Hamas fired one such missile at an IDF jeep during the conflict, killing an IDF soldier and injuring two others, one seriously.
Hamas was also aware that its attack tunnels were becoming much more problematic as an offensive tool, due to Israel’s underground anti-tunnel wall, which was completed in March.
“They understood their own vulnerability, due to the combat in 2014, when many hundreds of terrorists were killed, leading Hamas to construct the “metro” [a network of underground combat tunnels within Gaza]. This was supposed to defend them,” said Kuperwasser. Israel was able to map out sections of the ‘Metro’ and destroy 100 kilometers of the underground network.
“Some of these things were developed internally by Hamas, others in conjunction with Iran and Hizballah,” said Kuperwasser. “Hizballah has many underground assets, including many tunnels near the border with Israel. So we can see many signs that signal joint learning.”
It is fair to assume that at this time, senior members of Hamas, Hizballah and Iran are seeking to produce fresh lessons from the May conflict, he added.
The IDF has to monitor this process as best as it can, to stay ahead.
“It has to study the lessons that the other side is preparing, prepare answers to that, while also strengthening its own capabilities to surprise them. This learning competition is set to continue,” said Kuperwasser.
Israel has its own lessons to draw, despite its many operational and tactical gains during the conflict, he added.
While Israel was highly successful in merging its intelligence and firepower capabilities, it still has some way to go in better repressing future rocket attacks, and dealing with anti-tank missile fire at Israeli vehicles.
“The IDF, the defense establishment, and defense companies will sit together and study these lessons,” said Kuperwasser.
Last week’s visit to Washington by IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, likely included some talk with senior American defense officials about some of the lessons, such as dealing with enemy drones.
“Everyone understands that drones are a big next threat, including against American forces deployed in the area, as the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, has pointed out,” said Kuperwasser. “This is also a challenge for U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are also exposed to the threat.”
Saudi Arabia should also be trying to gain Israeli knowledge on how to deal with threats like drones, Kuperwasser said, as its territory has come under repeated, regular fire by Iranian-backed Houthis armed with suicide drones and missiles.
Multiple international media reports have said that Hizballah has played an active role in training the Houthis.
“In short, there is room for joint learning between Israel and the U.S. just as Hamas is doing with Hizballah and Iran,” said Kuperwasser. “It is safe to assume that what Hamas shares with Iran and Hizballah will also be shared with the Popular Mobilization Forces [the pro-Iranian militias] in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. Israel must try hard to remain ahead in this competition.”
IPT Senior Fellow Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.