Nothing better exemplifies the pernicious influence Iran’s Islamic Republic exercises over the Middle East than the devastation it has wrought on the once prosperous Mediterranean state of Lebanon.
A nation that once prided itself on being the jewel of the Levant, whose citizens claimed the great Phoenician trading empire as their forebears, now finds itself reduced to abject penury. The lira, the national currency, has seen its value collapse by a staggering 90 per cent during the past two years, food inflation is running at 200 per cent and, with the onset of winter, the population is required to endure power cuts lasting up to 18 hours a day.
As recent violent clashes in Beirut have demonstrated, the Lebanese people are under no illusions that the principal cause of their misery is Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia militia which effectively controls the country. Though Hizbollah’s leaders insist otherwise, few are under any illusions that the militia controls all levers of national power, from security to the economy.
A prime example of Hizbollah’s stranglehold can be seen in the bitter diplomatic dispute between Beirut and pro-Western Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. Lebanon relies heavily on the Gulf states, Saudi in particular, for economic support.
But when Lebanon’s information minister publicly criticised Saudi’s involvement in the Yemeni civil war, claiming Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were merely defending themselves against “foreign aggression”, the Gulf states cut diplomatic ties, prompting a major rift with Beirut that the Lebanese government can ill-afford.
The Saudis believe the fact that a senior Lebanese official should publicly criticise Riyadh is down to the malign political influence of Hizbollah and its Iranian backers. It would also help to explain why, more than a year after the disastrous explosion at Beirut port that killed 218 people and wounded thousands more, the government’s inquiry into the disaster is getting nowhere.
Despite the fact that the country faces economic ruin, the Lebanese government has not met since October 12 amid a dispute over the judicial probe into the port explosion. Hizbollah has been accused of storing the highly inflammable materials that caused the blast, and they have demanded the removal of the lead investigator, whom they accuse of bias.
“Hizbollah is using all means at its disposal to stop the investigation,” explained Bahaa Hariri, the son of the murdered Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who recently launched the Sawa reform movement to bring political stability to Lebanon. “This government only represents the interests of Hizbollah, not the interests of the Lebanese people.”
A successful businessman, the 55-year-old Mr Hariri also believes that Hizbollah and its Iranian backers must be held primarily responsible for Lebanon’s current economic plight.
“It is virtually impossible to destroy the economy of a prosperous country like Lebanon, but Hizbollah has managed to do it,” he said.
Mr Hariri and other prominent Lebanese supporters of the Sawa movement, which seeks to overcome the sectarian divisions that have blighted the country since its long-running civil war, is hoping the Lebanese people will have a chance to revive the country’s fortunes in elections due to be held in March.
Nor are Mr Hariri’s hopes that Lebanon can free itself from Iranian meddling without merit. In Iraq, another country long subjected to Iranian pressure, last month’s national elections saw a defeat for pro-Iran militant groups, such that Baghdad could soon see the formation of a government no longer prepared to tolerate Iranian influence in its affairs.
And that could help to set an important precedent for Lebanese voters, helping them to end once and for all the era of Iran’s disastrous interference in their country’s affairs.
Source » telegraph