Iran has won Lebanon

 Hezbollah fighters, holding up Lebanese flags and the yellow flag of the militant Shiite Muslim group, parade through the southern suburbs of Beirut in November 2009. (AFP)

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah declared his victory in Lebanon in his last speech and he’s right. Hezbollah won Lebanon and no one seems to care.
March 14 dissolved long before its leaders nominated March 8 figures for presidency. Political opponents to the Party of God and its hegemony over Lebanon lost the battle a long time ago, when they compromised values for political gains. The state is increasingly weakened by the void in its institutions, corruption of its spearheads, and petty individual interests.

Regional powers are busy in Syria and Yemen while the international community seems to have given up on Lebanon. As long as Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is not challenged by the international community, it means only one thing for Lebanon; that Iran has been given a free hand to take over. The release of a criminal and terrorist of Michel Samaha’s caliber is nothing but a sign of who runs the show, and how weak we are to even protest it.

Iran won Lebanon! And Iran can do anything it wants in Lebanon without any political opposition or challenges. And now Iran can focus to win what it needs in Syria, while everyone is busy making business deals with the “new Iran.” Lebanon, on the other hand, is going to pay a very high price for all these deals and compromises, more so as Iran, Russia and the Assad regime are scoring more gains in Syria.

Iran’s plan for Lebanon

To protect Hezbollah’s arms, Iran will do anything; whatever it takes and no matter how many people and lives are sacrificed. The arms are above all. The sacredness of these arms was justified by fighting Israeli aggression and occupation, and is justified today by fighting terrorism and takfiris. However, the real purpose and ultimate goal of Hezbollah’s arms is their mere existence.

Hezbollah’s arms are a symbol of its power and authority over Lebanon and the Lebanese. So without them, Hezbollah has nothing, and Iran will lose influence in Lebanon and the region. Even if they’re not in use, arms are the backbone of this power. With the changing dynamics in the region, Iran’s deal with the West and the escalating Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region, Hezbollah wants to make sure nothing changes the status quo of its arsenal. Today, there is no one to challenge Hezbollah’s arms in Lebanon. To guarantee that for the longest time possible, Hezbollah will need more void and the disintegration of state institutions, which will intensify and become worse.

The Sunni community will have to remain headless. Former PM Saad Hariri has been out of the country for years, and there’s no one else to challenge his popularity yet. The Saudi money stopped coming to the Sunni community, through Hariri’s institutions, as it used to, which left them in urgent need of leadership and financial support.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is taking advantage of the situation by recruitingmore Sunnis into the Resistance Brigade [Saraya al-Moqawama]. For a mere $400 a month, Sunnis are joining the Brigade – not to fight in Syria – but only to receive training and stay on hold until further notice.

This “further notice” is probably a local moment, similar to the May 7 events of 2008, or the Black Shirts of 2010. “What the Sunnis are used for, however, are reconnaissance missions in Syria, as they have access to rebel areas and make good informants,” a Sunni activist in the Bekaa told NOW a few months ago. “They offer some money, but more than that, they offer weapons, and, most of all, protection and the illusion that they are powerful.”

In any case, Hezbollah prefers this community to stay leaderless because it simply gives them more power and sway over Lebanon, its state, and its communities.

But the most significant part of this plan is the Shiites in Lebanon. They are the ones providing fighters for the war and protecting the party and its weapons. The supporters will die for Hezbollah and Iran, but they won’t die for Lebanon. This loyalty and dedication needs to endure. Without it, Hezbollah loses a lot, but it requires a lot as well; that is, money, for services, media, and compensations. The money is coming, despite the recent US sanctions. But the challenges are elsewhere.

Containing discontent

Hezbollah’s support-base is increasingly complaining. It started with the parents of the kids who died fighting in Syria, but it seems even the fighters themselves are complaining now.
Sources in the southern suburbs tell NOW that the increasing number of young men coming back in coffins – and sometimes not even coming back – without any benefit or victory felt, has intensified discontent. “When Hezbollah was resisting Israeli occupation, its victories were felt by the people. For example, they could go back to their occupied towns and villages in the South. Today, their victories have no practical repercussion on the community, but their losses do; it the death of our children, brothers and fathers,” she said.

On a different level, many businessmen in Lebanon are panicking after the US Treasury sanctions started targeting more people. Hezbollah’s economic support-base has never been targeted as it is today. Any businessman dealing with any of Hezbollah’s institutions is today reconsidering their deals – even if it is the selling of office supplies or catering services. This is not going to hurt Hezbollah significantly, but it will certainly increase the level of discontent by a community suffering more and more of isolation.

Hezbollah is trying to fight this discontent by increasing the funding for propaganda and services. For example, Iran is trying to take advantage of the severe financial crisis in Lebanon’s media sector – mainly due to the ceasing of Saudi funding for Lebanon’s media – to increase its support to its own media. For instance, recent reports show that Iran is spending millions of US dollars on media institutions, mostly located around the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Houthis, Iraqis and Hezbollah share a lot of these spaces and editorial operations. While Lebanese media – newspapers and TV channels – are closing or downsizing, Iranian-funded media outlets are prospering, expanding and hiring more than ever.

The whole point is to expand the propaganda rhetoric in order to contain the increasing discontent. Despite the challenges, the Party of God is steadily moving to take whatever is left of Lebanon. If no one stops it, Lebanon will be a state-within-Hezbollah’s-state, not the other way around. And we are not far from it.

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. She tweets @haningdr.