Arabs warn Biden Not to embolden Iran-backed Hezbollah

Lebanon and the Lebanese people are being held hostage today by a militia that is financed by Iran.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

The Iran-backed Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon will be the first to celebrate if and when a Biden administration returns to the 2015 nuclear deal between the world superpowers and Iran.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has called on Biden to give Iran more money and return to the nuclear deal. “Now, an opportunity has come up for the next US administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying with international agreements through respect of international norms,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying.

In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal and has since reimposed sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also expressed hope that a Biden administration would reverse its current US policy. Zarif said on Twitter that “the world is watching” to see if a Biden administration will depart from Trump’s approach toward Iran. “Deeds matter most,” Zarif added.

Lebanese and Arab political analysts, politicians and journalists believe that a US return to the nuclear deal with Iran would ease pressure on Hezbollah, particularly the economic sanctions imposed on the organization’s leaders and supporters. They believe that once the sanctions on Iran are lifted, it would be easier for the Iranians to continue funding Hezbollah which, they say, is responsible for the current economic and political crisis in Lebanon. According to Lebanese sources, Hezbollah is causing delays in the formation of a new Lebanese government.

Marc Saad, a representative of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, said that Hezbollah was looking to make sure that it would hold more than one-third of the ministerial portfolios, with foreign affairs and security under its control.

In the view of many Lebanese, their country’s miseries can be alleviated only through increased international and local financial sanctions on Hezbollah, which functions as a state-within-a-state in Lebanon. Engaging with Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran, they argue, will further embolden Hezbollah and exacerbate the crises Lebanon has been facing for the past few decades.

“Lebanon faces a grim reality,” said Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib, a specialist in US-Arab relations and founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese non-governmental organization.

“The most difficult obstacle remains Hezbollah. It is backed by Iran and by the [Syrian] Assad regime; it is the most organized group, and is sufficiently armed to start a civil war in Lebanon [between Hezbollah and its opponents to achieve control over the Beirut government]. Unless the regional dynamics change, it will be close to impossible to outmaneuver Hezbollah. Hence, the crux of the matter boils down to the type of pressure that should be imposed on it and its patrons.”

Khatib and other Lebanese nationals seem to be directing their words to a Biden administration. The message they are sending to a new US administration is: The Lebanese people are hoping that you will help them get rid of Hezbollah. Cozying up to Iran would further embolden Hezbollah and allow it to destroy Lebanon by turning it into an Iranian-controlled colony.

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In another message apparently directed to a potential Biden administration and the international community, Samy Gemayel, leader of the Christian Kataeb Party, accused Hezbollah of controlling Lebanon’s decision-making and said it was responsible for the country’s “collapse”:

“Since 2015, the total influence of Hezbollah and the mafia has been made over the Lebanese institutions. A deal between the corrupted ruling political class, the weapons and the militias of Hezbollah has led the country to the total collapse of its institutions and its economy…

“We do believe that Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon’s decision-making has led the country to a lot of sanctions and isolation from its historical friends such as the Arab countries, Europe, and the US…

“Today, the country is isolated internationally because a lot of governments consider it to be a proxy of Iran and a country that is controlled by Hezbollah. Hezbollah couldn’t do that without the mafia’s blessing that is benefiting from the system and is also corrupting it.”

Gemayel pointed out that the Lebanese people have taken to the streets and “called for our country’s liberation from any kind of control, especially from Iran and Hezbollah.”

Gemayel expressed regret over the situation the Lebanese are currently facing and described it as the worst social and humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. “The Lebanese people are not surviving,” he said.

“They are starving. If it was a normal situation, we would have been certainly against any kind of interference in Lebanon, but we have to take into consideration that Lebanon and the Lebanese people are being held hostage today by a militia that is financed by Iran, whose weapons are coming from Iran, and even whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is stating clearly and publicly that he takes orders from Iran.”

He added that it was the responsibility of the international community to pressure Iran to stop supporting Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is the only party in Lebanon that has 20,000 soldiers on the ground… It can threaten, it can use violence, it can do a lot to make our democracy totally fictive. Today, we are being treated as hostages, and therefore the international community must help us.”

Lebanese journalist Jerry Maher also accused Hezbollah of causing “great disasters” to Lebanon and its people. “Hezbollah was will remain a terrorist organization,” he remarked. “We can only find solutions to our crises by disarming Hezbollah and holding its leaders accountable for their terrorism in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.”

Syrian journalist Abdul Jalil Al-Saeed expressed hope that the new US administration would not change its current policy toward Hezbollah. “The crisis in Lebanon is a regional crisis,” he argued. Al-Saeed also said he was anxious for a Biden administration to oppose Hezbollah’s participation in a new Lebanese government and continue to see the terror organization as “an armed gang that is completely affiliated with Iran.”

Lebanese journalist Munir Al-Rabi noted that Hezbollah and Iran “view Biden’s victory as a new area to breathe a sigh of relief.” Hezbollah and Iran, he remarked, “are now convinced that the pressure on them will ease, and the Democrats will pursue a realistic policy with Tehran that revives the nuclear agreement.”

Rabi said he hoped that Biden would refuse to take the same path as former President Barack Obama toward Iran. “This mistake needs to be corrected,” Rabi wrote, referring to Obama’s policy of appeasement toward Iran. “Correcting it can only be done by adopting a policy different from the Obama policy.” Rabi added that even if Biden wants to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, he should not return to the same terms of the agreement reached under the Obama administration, meaning that if there is to be a new agreement, it should not be too soft on Iran.

The Lebanese and Arab warnings about a possible return to the nuclear deal with Iran and the resulting empowerment of Hezbollah need to be taken seriously by the new US administration. The Lebanese and Arabs are trying to tell Biden what they and the Trump administration have known for the past few years, namely, that Iran and its proxies — such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Houthis — are poised to wreak havoc in the Middle East.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.