Eyad Abu Shakra
I am not absolutely sure how much the Iranian regime is suffering under the increasingly efficient US economic and political blockade; however, so far, I have noticed no real change in its handling of the regional scene.
Reputed economic experts confirmed to me last week that the economic situation in Iran was pretty bad, so was in its Arab ‘colonies’.
Well, it is impossible to separate the political situation from the overall economic crises. Moreover, there are significant similarities between the Iraqi and the Lebanese ‘scenarios’ despite clear differences; which include population size, natural resources, and geographic location as Iraq borders Iran and Turkey, while Lebanon shares its frontiers with Israel and Syria.
As for similarities, they are especially important because they provide the basis for Iran’s unified approach to the two countries, which its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) boasts about occupying and controlling.
The first similarity is the presence of a one sectarian ‘incubator’ which is the Shiite sect. This presence has been vital in facilitating the ‘export’ of the Khomeinist ‘revolution’. The percentage of the Shiite population of Iraq and Lebanon is among the highest in the Arab world, and Tehran has worked for a long time on penetrating these two Shiite communities resurrecting historical relations and benefitting from more recent cases of social and political marginalization.
Indeed, Tehran has put very high bets in winning these two communities over; and for a while, it succeeded, until the last few months, when it was proved that its calculations were off target.
The Iraqi uprising has been both brave and widespread covering all the Shiite provinces without exception. It has not only included attacking iconic and symbolic targets for the Iranian regime (such as Iranian consulates, and offices belonging to the Shiite Da’wa Party and other pro-Tehran militias) in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, but also witnessed sit-ins and mass demonstrations extending from central Baghdad to Al Basrah, and from Al Amarah to Al Nasseriyyah, in addition to Al Hillah and Al Diwaniyyah.
Despite all kinds of the pro-Tehran authorities’ crackdown be they sniping, assassinations, and attempts to break the sit-ins and disperse demonstrations, demonstrators stood fast, regrouped and reclaimed the streets and squares in an open challenge to the authorities and its intransigence in opposing the people’s demands.
It seems that these authorities – wholly dependent on Tehran – have forgotten that the Iraqis have risen spurred by vital demands and national pride. They may have forgotten that there is a younger Iraqi generation that rejects both corruption and Iranian hegemony, which is why it would be impossible to blackmail it again with ISIS, or bringing back the ghosts of the former Baath Party and ex-President Saddam Hussein. Iraqis know that there is no link between plundering Iraq or subjugating it to Iran…and either ISIS or Saddam.
In Lebanon too, Iran has bet on sectarianism and has used the Lebanese War (1975 – 1990) as an excuse to build up Hezbollah, its strongest and most sophisticated militia in the Middle East, through its embassy in Damascus. Today, Hezbollah rules Lebanon thanks to its formidable military arsenal and its manipulation of a corrupt sectarian system that has no loyalty even to the concept of ‘state’. Furthermore, Hezbollah has been performing its Tehran-prescribed regional role from northern Syria to central Yemen. But, while it may be currently enjoying its hegemony over Lebanon after securing the Presidency to its candidate, and gaining control of Parliament as a result of imposing its favorite electoral system, it is just discovering the limits of its power. It is noticing that its might isn’t overawing the ordinary Shiite, who, like every Lebanese citizen, aspires for an honest living in an open, normal and healthy society. The Shiite individual, whether in south Lebanon, northern Bekaa or Beirut’s southern suburbs, does not hesitate anymore in speaking out, demonstrating, and holding sit-ins despite intimidations and suppression.
Another element of similarity has been the errors committed by the Sunni ruling elites in both Iraq and Lebanon. Those elites have been passive, and have misread, disregarded, and underestimated developments, as well as made wrong bets on others as they tried to cling to the now threatened privileges. In the two countries, the Sunni elites committed huge errors of judgment more than once, such as Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and the Lebanese Sunnis’ turning a blind eye to the Syrian regime’s game of ‘divide and rule’ in Lebanon, and accepting that Hezbollah would keep its arms after all other militias handed over theirs based on ‘the Taif Accords’.
The invasion of Kuwait has served the Iranian regional plan – implicitly supported by Israel – to destroy the institutions of the Iraqi state; including the Iraqi army and civil service. Consequently, Iraq was handed over to Iran’s henchmen and militias. In Lebanon, as the Sunnis kept quiet, a pro-Iran state within a state was created under the full sponsorship of the Syrian regime. Since 2006 this ‘state’ has been coexisting peacefully enough with Israel.
The third element of similarity is the presence of an effective ‘third party’ outside the Shiite-Sunni divide; the Kurdish player in Iraq, and the Christian player in Lebanon. The Kurdish leadership in Iraq has never forgotten years of animosity and wars with the former Baathist regime, but it also knows where Iran stands on the issue of ‘Kurdish independence’; it is aware that Tehran’s position is not different from that of Ankara and Baghdad. Thus, despite committing several tactical mistakes, it has decided to keep itself and its ‘autonomous region’ from the Shiite-Sunni confrontation. In fact, because it has learnt from its past mistakes, the Kurdish leadership is currently adopting a patient ‘wait and see’ strategy until the regional map and the Kurds’ place in it become clearer.
The contrary has been taking place in Lebanon. The Free Patriotic Movement, led by General Michel Aoun, turned against the Christian consensus and the broad Christian – Sunni – Druze coalition that was instrumental in getting the Syrian troops out of Lebanon in the aftermath of The Rafic Hariri’s assassination. Aoun, subsequently, entered a coalition ‘agreement’ with Hezbollah in February 2005 that would achieve two objectives: make Aoun Hezbollah
Presidential candidate, and reclaim to the Christians what Aoun had always regarded as Christian privileges lost to the Sunnis as a result ‘the Taif Accords’. Since 2005 Iran’s ambitions and attempts to incorporate Lebanon into its regional axis have gained a political ‘cover’ provided by a sizable percentage of Lebanese Christians – represented by Aoun – despite the threat of such cover and axis to the interests and future of the Christians in their country.
In short, the Aounist gamble has taken the opposite direction to that of the Iraqi Kurds; for while the latter decided to keep away from the Shiite – Sunni quagmire… the FPM and its founder have thrown the Lebanese Christians in it against their true interests.