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)
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


UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons
Updated 29 November 2021

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

Britain and Israel will “work night and day” in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the foreign ministers of the two countries wrote in a joint article.
“The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions,” the UK’s Liz Truss and her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid wrote https://bit.ly/3E4wEbs in the Telegraph newspaper on Sunday.


Iranian riot police patrol city’s dry river after water protests

In this file photo taken on November 19, 2021, Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on November 19, 2021, Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2021

Iranian riot police patrol city’s dry river after water protests

In this file photo taken on November 19, 2021, Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. (AFP)
  • Demonstrators blame authorities for diverting water to neighboring Yazd province

TEHRAN: Iranian riot police on Sunday patrolled a dried-out riverbed in the central city of Isfahan where protests against a water shortage led to violent clashes two days earlier.

Drought and water diversions have been blamed for drying up the Zayandeh-Rood waterway that runs from the Zagros mountains and through the city known for its iconic river bridges.
Water protests since Nov. 9 have drawn at times thousands of demonstrators to the city, where a large rally on Friday escalated into clashes in which 67 people were arrested.
Calm has returned and it held on Sunday, a local photographer said by phone from Isfahan, the country’s third-largest city 340 km south of Tehran.
“In the morning, the city was calm and traffic was normal,” the photographer said.
“I saw riot police patrolling the riverbed between the historic bridges, but their numbers were lower than on Saturday.”
The protesters blame the authorities for diverting water to neighboring Yazd province, which is also desperately short of water.
Authorities Saturday announced 67 arrests of the “main perpetrators and troublemakers” in the rally that had drawn “2,000 to 3,000 rioters.”
The arrests were made by the police, intelligence services and the Revolutionary Guards.

BACKGROUND

Water protests since Nov. 9 have drawn at times thousands of demonstrators to the city, where a large rally on Friday escalated into clashes in which 67 people were arrested.

Police had on Friday fired tear gas at the protesters, who threw stones, smashed the windows of an ambulance and set a police motorbike ablaze, according to the Fars news agency.
Nourodin Soltanian, a spokesman for Isfahan University Hospital, said a number of protesters were wounded, including “two in serious condition.”
Isfahan police chief Mohammed-Reza Mirheidari called the protesters “opportunists and counter-revolutionaries,” and the ultraconservative newspaper Kayhan accused “mercenary thugs” of being behind the “riots.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters.”
He added on Twitter that “the people of Iran have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable.”
The Kayhan daily meanwhile also linked Friday’s protests to the scheduled resumption of nuclear talks on Monday in Vienna between Iran and a group of major powers.
Friday’s events “testify to the infiltration of a US fifth column, in the run-up to the Vienna talks, to provoke a riot and push for (new) US sanctions” against Iran, it said.
The Zayandeh-Rood river that runs through Isfahan has been dry since 2000, except for a few brief periods.
Iran has endured repeated droughts over the past decade, but also regular floods, a phenomenon that can intensify when torrential rains fall on sun-baked earth.
Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts and that their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security.


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
Updated 28 November 2021

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.


Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
Updated 28 November 2021

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
  • Prime minister directs government to take all precautionary measures against new COVID-19 variant Omicron

CAIRO: Egypt authorized on Sunday Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15, the cabinet said in a statement.
The step effectively lowers the minimum age of eligibility to receive the two-shot vaccine in Egypt, which was 15 years old previously.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly directed the government to take all precautionary measures against the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, noting the decision to halt all direct flights with South Africa.
His comments came during a meeting of a medical group to combat coronavirus, the state news agency (MENA) reported. 
Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, higher education and acting health minister, reviewed a report on the current local and international epidemical situation and the developments of the new variant, adding that the report confirmed there are no Omicron cases detected in Egypt till now.
He said that about 45.2 million vaccine doses had been administered, with 15.6 million people having received both doses.
On Friday, Egypt suspended direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus.
(With Reuters)


At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf
Updated 28 November 2021

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf
  • The Arab coalition on Sunday announced that it had killed 110 Houthis in 15 airstrikes that destroyed nine Houthi military targets in Marib and Jouf during the past 24 hours

AL-MUKALLA: At least 200 Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government forces and in airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes during the past 24 hours in the Yemeni provinces of Marib and Jouf, as the militia pushed into Marib to seize control of strategic terrain, coalition and local military figures said on Sunday. 

One official told Arab News that at least 100 Houthis were killed when the militia launched a string of attacks on government forces in Thana, west of Marib city, on Saturday, in a bid to break the government’s lines and reach Al-Balaq Al-Qibili Mountain to high ground over parts of the city.

“All waves of the Houthis failed to advance or capture an inch in Thana. Many Houthis were killed when our forces and the (Arab) coalition’s warplanes wiped out those waves,” the official said, adding that most of the Houthi fatalities were caused by “precise” airstrikes. 

The Houthis have recently focused attacks on areas west of Marib after failing to make territorial gains in Juba, Um Raesh and Al-Amud, south of Marib.

In September, the Houthis pushed into districts such as Abedia, Rahabah and Hareb after making rapid gains in neighboring Al-Bayda province.

The Houthis once again were drawn into a military stalemate in Juba after facing stiff resistance from army troops and local tribes. Hundreds were killed in heavy fighting during the past week, and the militia was forced into decreasing attacks due to high losses, the official said. 

The Arab coalition on Sunday announced that it had killed 110 Houthis in 15 airstrikes that destroyed nine Houthi military targets in Marib and Jouf during the past 24 hours.

The coalition has intensified raids against the Houthis across Yemen, hitting ballistic missile depots, drone workshops and ammunition stores in Sanaa and dozens of military vehicles and fighters heading to various battlefields.

Based on the coalition’s daily updates on its airstrikes, hundreds of Houthis have been killed and dozens of vehicles destroyed in Marib and other flashpoints in Yemen this month.

The heavy aerial bombardments of Houthi targets have shored up government troops on the ground, allowing them to repulse Houthi attacks and make territorial gains.