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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nasrallah opens his Iranian playbook

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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© APimages

During his recent visit to Lebanon to hold talks with government officials, the US Deputy Secretary-of-State Antony Blinken found Hezbollah’s policies perplexing. “If I am Lebanese and I want my country to be peaceful and stable, it’s hard to understand their actions,” he said. His criticism was levelled at Hezbollah’s military support for the Assad regime, which Blinken asserts is contributing to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and serves as a recruiting tool for the Islamic State in neighbouring Syria.

In reality, there is nothing perplexing about Hezbollah’s behaviour when, although its members hold Lebanese nationality, their loyalty is firmly with the ayatollahs in Iran – and always has been since its founding in 1980s. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah receives his directives from Iran’s Supreme Leader, so it stands to reason that he would agree to join the fight, irrespective of whether that decision harmed his own country’s security or economy.

Similarly Nasrallah’s remarks pertaining to the Saudi-led Arab intervention in Yemen could have just as well emerged from the mouth of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s ventriloquists dummy. Just like his master in Qom, he launched a vicious attack on Saudi Arabia. “Yemenis do not need to prove their Arab or Islamic identity,” he said. “It’s those invading Yemen who must prove they are real Arabs...”

He should be challenged to prove he is a real Lebanese when a true son of the soil would feel gratitude for last Monday’s [April 20] delivery of French-made weapons and anti-tank missiles, paid for by Saudi Arabia as part of a US$ 3 billion Saudi initiative to upgrade the Lebanese Army.

Adding insult to injury, he threatened the Kingdom, saying, “The revolutionary leadership of Ansar Allah, this great leader Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, now has the chance to attack and infiltrate into Saudi Arabia; however, he doesn’t because he is performing what is called ‘strategic patience’.” At last, a glimmer of truth from his lips!

Saudi Arabia, that is Iran’s end game, not the Arab World’s poorest country Yemen that’s fast running out of natural resources, including clean water.

Nasrallah is acting true to form. But I was shocked to see a ‘Breaking News’ strap line on Future TV that read: “Nasrallah’s speech against Saudi Arabia is just one of big mistakes added to [his] many mistakes.” I was further surprised to read the Future Movement’s uncharacteristically vehement response to his anti-Saudi rhetoric, which cut to the core of the problem. Its leader, Saad Hariri didn’t mince words. He accused Hezbollah’s chief of importing his rhetoric from Iran and of using “falsification and deception” detrimental to Lebanon’s interests on Twitter.

In a statement, Hariri slammed Hezbollah for luring Tele Liban into airing Nasrallah’s rant against the Saudi leadership, originally broadcasted on Syrian state TV. Government-controlled media should not be used as a platform “to offend an Arab country and insult Saudi Arabia, its officials and its role... for the sake of Iran and its regional policies,” he said.

Hariri didn’t say anything that anyone who knows anything at all about Lebanon already knows. But now that he’s admitted in unmistakable terms that Hezbollah works for Iran, the real is:

“What does the March 14th bloc, more particularly the Future Movement, plan to do about it? Lebanon is an Arab country. Lebanon is a member of the Arab League. In this case, how can any Lebanese patriot tolerate the continued presence of an armed militia in the knowledge it pays obeisance to a foreign leadership that’s hostile to the Arab world?

However, I don’t derive any sense of hope from Hariri’s straight talking or his party’s clear statement, because talk is cheap unless backed up with action. March 14th is ostensibly in control of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior, which should have issued an arrest warrant for Nasrallah and his associates by now.

Unfortunately, the Minister of Interior Nouhad Machnouk - formerly the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s political and media adviser and one of Hezbollah’s most hawkish critics – is now a proponent of dialogue with Hezbollah. When asked by the Lebanese paper The Daily Star why he softened, he replied “What other choice do I have?” Should we understand from that response that, in reality, he isn’t in control of his own ministry?

Nevertheless, I am prepared to give him and the other March 14th ministers the benefit of the doubt. I must assume that even if they had the will, until recently they lacked the means. But now that they control the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior, they have no excuse for shirking their duty to their country and its people.

Convictions without courage are worthless. It is their responsibility to ensure ‘Iranian’ traitors face justice in a court of law. How long will they continue appeasing betrayers who undermine Lebanon in the back time and time again?

When they have no problem getting together with Hezbollah officials socially I cannot help but wonder is their harsh rhetoric against Nasrallah little more than an attempt to appease their own constituents. If that is the case, they will lose their following. The Lebanese aren’t stupid; they will eventually see through this facade, this sham, if they haven’t already.

As long as March 14th politicians manoeuvre this way and that like skilled chess players without ever actually shouting ‘checkmate’, Hezbollah will strengthen its grip - especially when it stands to benefit from increased Iranian funding when sanctions are lifted on Iran if and when the P5+1 – Iran nuclear deal is sealed. I can only urge the GCC States to be wary of these masters of manipulation whose prime goal is to safeguard their own political futures without taking necessary risks.

One of the few open and transparent major political players is Free Patriotic Movement head, Michel Aoun, who says whatever he feels - for which he has my respect - even though he is in Hezbollah’s camp, which he entered not out of a shared ideology but rather political expediency. If this presidential candidate decided to position himself at the heart of Lebanon’s camp and distance himself from the Iranian proxy, he could prove to be a game changer. I would challenge Aoun to do the right thing... to reject those who would crush his homeland underfoot if so ordered by the leaders of Iran and stand with those who want nothing more than their country strong and independent.

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