Why Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah is unlikely to disarm voluntarily

Special Hezbollah fighters brandish weapons at the funeral procession (above) of a slain comrade, with experts predicting that the group will resist calls to disarm. (AFP/File Photo)
Hezbollah fighters brandish weapons at the funeral procession (above) of a slain comrade, with experts predicting that the group will resist calls to disarm. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 17 November 2021

Why Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah is unlikely to disarm voluntarily

Hezbollah fighters brandish weapons at the funeral procession (above) of a slain comrade, with experts predicting that the group will resist calls to disarm. (AFP/File Photo)
  • With its formidable arsenal of weapons courtesy of Iran, Hezbollah is by far the best armed faction in Lebanon
  • Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state has detrimental effect on Lebanon’s political economy and diplomatic standing

WASHINGTON, D.C.: It was a late October morning in 1983 when two suicide trucks driven by members of a then little-known terror group named Hezbollah crashed into a US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American and 58 French military personnel and six civilians.

Armed, funded and indoctrinated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah was created to forge ahead with the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions, expand its influence, and export its ideology.

In the years since the attack, Hezbollah has spread its tentacles into every aspect of social, economic and political life in Lebanon. Its influence and power have also spread abroad via a special unit known as the Islamic Jihad Organization.

More recently, Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters into Syria to help prop up the regime of Bashar Assad, where it is accused of ethnic cleansing and other war crimes against Syrian civilians.

In October 2019, when mass protests erupted against Lebanon’s ruling elite, Hezbollah militants attacked peaceful demonstrators. Similar scenes of violence played out in the streets of Beirut in October this year when Hezbollah militants clashed with unidentified gunmen.




Hezbollah is backed by Iranian-funded groups throughout the region, including Yemeni supporters of the terrorist Houthi militia (right), who have praised the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. (AFP/File Photo)

Hezbollah supporters were protesting outside the Palace of Justice to demand the dismissal of the judge leading the independent criminal inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast when they came under fire, sparking running street battles.

Given its suspected hand in previous terror attacks, Hezbollah could well have a connection to the massive cache of ammonium nitrate that caused the blast. Investigators want to question former government officials known to have close ties with the group — a prospect it views as a direct threat to its interests.

In most instances of Hezbollah violence, the Lebanese Armed Forces have either stood idly by or were simply no match for the group’s heavily armed and well-trained militants.

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With its formidable war arsenal, including hundreds of precision-guided munitions and thousands of short to medium-range ground-to-ground rockets, Hezbollah is by far the best-armed faction in Lebanon — and the most dangerous.

A recent UN secretary-general report on Hezbollah reiterated the long-standing call for the group’s disarmament, as enshrined by UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

“The maintenance by Hezbollah of a military arsenal outside of a legal framework and its involvement in the Syrian Arab Republic continued to be denounced by a number of voices in Lebanon, who consider those issues to be destabilizing factors in the country and ones that undermine democracy,” the report stated.

“Many Lebanese see the continued presence of such arms as an implicit threat that the weapons could be used within Lebanon for political reasons.”




Civilians evacuate their homes during clashes in the area of Tayouneh, in the southern suburb of the capital Beirut on October 14, 2021, following a demonstration by supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal movements. (AFP/File Photo)

Those fears are well founded. In a recent speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed to have amassed 100,000 fighters. In the same speech, he railed against the Beirut port blast inquiry.

Hezbollah’s creation of a “state within a state” is having a detrimental effect on Lebanon’s political economy and diplomatic standing, leaving the country impoverished and isolated. But experts are torn over whether the group can be disarmed, especially given Iran’s patronage and the West’s failure to establish a cohesive policy.

“Even though the UN has adopted resolutions requiring the disarmament of Hezbollah, none of the instruments, into which the US, primarily, has sunk billions of dollars of taxpayer money, were ever going to disarm the group. By that I mean the LAF and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon,” Tony Badran, a Lebanese expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.

“The LAF would never act against Hezbollah, regardless of how much the US builds its ‘capacity’ and ‘professionalism.’ These are irrelevant issues, as the problem is one of political order.

“For example, Hezbollah is the government. The LAF answers to the government. No government, even one in which Hezbollah does not sit, will approve action against the group. That’s a structural feature of the Lebanese system. It will not change regardless of how many billions the US throws at it.”

Indeed, analysts point to the parasitic relationship Hezbollah has established within key military and financial institutions. The US Treasury Department recently sanctioned a former finance minister for granting the group access to the ministry and Lebanon’s financial sector.

FASTFACTS

* Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claims to have amassed 100,000 fighters, on top of the vast arsenal supplied by Iran.

* Beirut port blast investigators want to question politicians with ties to Hezbollah — a prospect the group views as a threat.

Defense experts believe a sizable amount of Western aid handed to the LAF actually ends up filling Hezbollah’s coffers. UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border, is also seen by these experts as simply strengthening Hezbollah’s hold on the country.

The second-best alternative to disarmament might be to simply disengage from Lebanon, cutting off all outside financial help, thus depriving Hezbollah of this source of revenue.

“The US is invested now in the stability of the Hezbollah-led order and status quo, in which the LAF functions as Hezbollah’s auxiliary force,” said Badran. “Similarly, the states that contribute troops to UNIFIL have every incentive to maintain the status quo and avoid any clash with Hezbollah.

“Consequently, far from being viable instruments for disarming Hezbollah, the LAF and UNIFIL provide cover and support for Hezbollah and its operations.

“Therefore, the only meaningful policy for the US is to stop funding both these forces. Saudi Arabia came to this realization a few years ago and decided to end funding for the LAF, having understood that Lebanon, that is the so-called state, is dominated entirely by Hezbollah.”




Boys wearing military fatigues carry weapons during a procession organised by Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement following the mourning period of Ashura in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh. (AFP/File Photo)

To understand Hezbollah is to understand Iran’s regional strategy. The group has used its position to secure Iranian interests and territories, not only in the Levant but as far afield as Yemen.

As such, the Lebanese “state” has functioned as a bridgehead for regional destabilization, “not to mention narcotics trafficking and money laundering,” Badran said.

Hezbollah argues that its weapons arsenal and special role in Lebanon are necessary for resisting Israel. In reality, Hezbollah leverages its military supremacy and control over the internal security apparatus inside Lebanon to secure a financial windfall.

In May, the US government sanctioned Hezbollah’s financial firm Al-Qard Al-Hasan, which Saudi Arabia has also designated as a terrorist entity.

“From the highest levels of Hezbollah’s financial apparatus to working level individuals, Hezbollah continues to abuse the Lebanese financial sector and drain Lebanon’s financial resources at an already dire time,” the US Treasury Department said in a recent report.

“AQAH masquerades as a non-governmental organization under the cover of a Ministry of Interior-granted NGO license, providing services characteristic of a bank in support of Hezbollah while evading proper licensing and regulatory supervision.

“By hoarding hard currency that is desperately needed by the Lebanese economy, AQAH allows Hezbollah to build its own support base and compromise the stability of the Lebanese state.”

Kyle Orton, a British security analyst, does not believe that Hezbollah will disarm voluntarily as it is an extension of Iran’s long-term plans for the region and is thus more beholden to Tehran than to the interests of the Lebanese people.




Shiite fighters from Hezbollah and Amal movements take aim with (L to R) a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher amidst clashes in the area of Tayouneh, in the southern suburb of the capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

“Hezbollah will obviously never lay down its weapons voluntarily and there is nobody who can compel them to, certainly not the UN,” Orton told Arab News.

“But really, the framing of the issue with Hezbollah as one of ‘disarming’ them somewhat misses the point. The problem is not Hezbollah’s weapons so much as its nature — a branch of the Islamic Revolution that seized Iran in 1979.

“Viewing Hezbollah as an integral component of the transnational Islamic Revolution explains why it behaves the way it does, as a gendarme and force-multiplier for the IRGC’s regional empire, and also suggests the only real solution to dealing with it is through removal of the Islamic Republic in Iran.

“Hezbollah is not a Lebanese creature, so trying to deal with it in a Lebanese framework — through disarmament mechanisms or whatever — is doomed to failure.”

Joseph Daher, a Lebanese analyst and author of “Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God,” says the group does still maintain a base of support within Lebanese society.

“The party still has a significant mobilization capacity within the Lebanese Shiite populations, although it has increasingly suffered criticisms within the community, including protests against the party and its members of parliament,” Daher told Arab News.

While the economic chaos, currency collapse and mounting global isolation are leading more Lebanese to outwardly voice their opposition to Hezbollah, the group has not hesitated to use brute force to stifle dissent.

Disarming Hezbollah may seem like a tall order. However, Lebanese across the sectarian spectrum still have to confront a difficult question: Can Lebanon survive as a sovereign state while Hezbollah continues to undermine it with impunity?

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Twitter: @OS26


Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry
Updated 58 min 49 sec ago

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry
  • The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead but the figure could not immediately be confirmed
  • APDHA, a human rights group based in Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries

MADRID: Human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco have called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 Africans and injuries suffered by dozens more who attempted to scale the border fence that surrounds Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.
Moroccan authorities said the casualties occurred when a “stampede” of people tried to climb the iron fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. In a statement released Friday, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.
Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official MAP news agency said the death toll increased to 18 after several migrants died in the hospital. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.
The association also shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.
“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a “comprehensive” investigation.
In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.
In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.
“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain, said. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”
APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total 133 migrants made it across the border.


Iranian girl, 4, dies after being left in car under summer sun

Iranian girl, 4, dies after being left in car under summer sun
Updated 25 June 2022

Iranian girl, 4, dies after being left in car under summer sun

Iranian girl, 4, dies after being left in car under summer sun
  • Parents forgot the girl due to ‘stress’ about the funeral they were attending

LONDON: A 4-year-old Iranian girl has died after her parents left her in their car for hours while they attended a funeral service, local government officials reported.

The child, whose forename Sadia has been released, traveled with her family to Ramhormoz, a city in the east of the country, as temperatures hit 49 degrees Celsius.

Her parents allegedly left her in the car for the entire service because she fell asleep on the way to the funeral.

Local media reported that they forgot about her because they were “stressed” about the funeral.

Dr. Gholamreza Haidarnejad, from the city’s forensics department, said Sadia died from heat stroke and suffocation, which was complicated by stress. A police investigation has been launched.


EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days
Updated 25 June 2022

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days
  • France urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible

DUBAI: Talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal will resume in the coming days, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday during a visit to Tehran.
“We will resume the talks on the JCPOA in the coming days,” Borrell told a news conference in the Iranian capital, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Borrell met Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported, as the bloc seeks to break an impasse between Tehran and Washington over reinstating a nuclear pact.
The United States said earlier in June it was awaiting a constructive response from Iran on reviving the 2015 deal — under which Iran restricted its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions — without “extraneous” issues.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last week called on Washington, which exited the deal and then imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran during the Trump administration in 2018, to “be realistic.”
It appeared on the brink of revival in March when the EU, which is coordinating negotiations, invited ministers to Vienna to seal it after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.
But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved,” comments that Iran’s foreign ministry has neither denied nor confirmed.
France, a party to the deal, on Friday urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible.


Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources
Updated 25 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources
  • Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded near the village of Silwad

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died from his wounds hours after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian sources said Saturday.
Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded on Friday evening near the village of Silwad, near Ramallah in the northern West Bank, and died hours later, a Silwad councillor told AFP. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The teenager was near a road leading to the neighboring settlement of Ofra when he was wounded by Israeli soldiers, the councillor said.
His death comes amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Nineteen people, mostly Israeli civilians — including 18 inside Israel and a Jewish settler — have been killed in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs since late March.
Israeli security forces have responded with raids inside Israel and in the West Bank in which three Israeli Arab attackers and at least 46 Palestinians have been killed.
Among those killed were suspected militants but also non-combatants, including an Al Jazeera journalist who was covering a raid in Jenin.


Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Updated 25 June 2022

Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
  • UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948

UNITED NATIONS: Donors pledged about $160 million for the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.
Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the UN Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.
“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”
UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.
Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.
In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.
“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”
Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”
Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.
Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.
Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.
“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.
Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s UN Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.
Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with UN policies.”