Last week’s clashes in Beirut represented the deadliest violence the capital city has seen in decades. At the core of the violence is Hezbollah’s attempt to derail the judicial investigation into the August 2020 port explosion. If Hezbollah is successful in its venture, the rule of law in Lebanon will be pushed to the side permanently. Hezbollah and its allies have been pushing for the dismissal of Tarek Bitar, the judge in charge of investigating the 2020 blast. Through this effort, Hezbollah has intensified Lebanon’s political crisis and crippled the new government, which was already in a precarious state. The message from Hezbollah and its political allies to the Lebanese people is clear. Their demands for justice will bring on another civil war.
The governmental stasis, coupled with the violence seen last week is conjuring up dark memories of the past. Specifically, the Lebanese Civil War that raged from 1975 until 1990. The Lebanese people have lost faith in many of the nation’s institutions. They overwhelmingly blame the corrupt political class for the condition of the country. The bungled aftermath of the port explosion created a powder keg of sorts which the nation and its population is presently perched upon. The drive to remove Bitar threatens to be the spark that ignites Lebanon and transforms it into either a true failed state, or on the flip side, an Iranian vassal.
Today, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett placed the Lebanese government in the hotseat when he stated to his Cabinet that Israel will hold that government responsible for any future rocket attack launched from its soil, no matter if Hezbollah launched the rockets or not. The matter of rocket fire from Lebanon was a topic pushed to the forefront in the last week as militants launched a large number of rockets into Israel, prompting Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire missions in return.
Bennett’s remarks come just 24 hours after Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that his group will retaliate against any future Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon. Nasrallah also warned Israel that Hezbollah will not be restricted by the economic crisis and political divisions now affecting Lebanon. If anything, the turmoil engulfing Lebanon at present offers Hezbollah the opportunity to act with impunity. Israel understands this, and it is likely a factor that motivated Bennett’s comments today. Israeli pressure placed on the Lebanese government gives it more motivation to rein in Hezbollah. Lebanon has enough problems to deal with at the moment without having to worry about a large-scale Israeli military response.
Whether or not the government can put Hezbollah in check is another matter altogether.
Author’s Note: This weekend has gotten away from me so I’ll push Part II of the North Korea Collapse Project to net weekend. Apologies.
Tensions between Iran and Israel continue to rise in the aftermath of last week’s drone attack on the oil tanker MV Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman. Israel, as well as the United States and other Western nations blamed Iran for the attack. Yesterday, the attempted hijacking of another merchant ship in the same area has been linked to Iranian-supported forces in the region. Iran has denied claims made about its alleged involvement in both incidents. Then this morning, on the heels of that latest maritime incident, rockets were launched against Israel from targets in southern Lebanon, prompting counter-battery fire by Israeli artillery in response. By the afternoon, the situation appears to have quieted down, with the commander of UN Interim Force in Lebanon urging both parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalating on the first anniversary of the Beirut Port Explosion.
The Israeli government, however, has not been shy about laying the blame on Iran for recent the recent escalation in tensions around the region. At present, Israel is attempting to rally international action on Iran in response to last week’s attack on the Mercer Street. “We are working to rally the world, but at the same time we also know to act alone,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has stated. The meaning behind the last part of his statement serves as a warning to Iran and the world as well. If the international community is reluctant to take effective action against Iran, Israel act unilaterally.
*Author’s Note: Brief update today, free time has been limited. Apologies*
Overnight, a pair of rockets were fired at northern Israel from Lebanon. One rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and the other fell in an unpopulated area. There was no damage or casualties. Israel responded promptly with artillery strikes against the areas where the rockets were launched from. When morning came, Israeli politicians were framing the rocket attack as a signal that spillover of the crisis in Lebanon could be imminent. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel will not endure rocket fire from Lebanon. Terrorists will “pay a painful price.
Lebanon’s condition becomes more critical with every passing day. The nation is contending with an economic depression, as well as escalating political and social chaos. It is, for all intent and purposes, already a failed state. Amid Lebanon’s destabilization, Iran is moving preparing to exploit the situation for its own benefit. Israel worries about the prospect of increasing missile fire from southern Lebanon prompting a new threat on its northern border. As Lebanon’s woes deepen, its neighbor to the south beginning to deal with blowback. Sudanese and Turkish workers, unable to earn livings in Lebanon are attempting to sneak into Israel and look for jobs. A small thorn, yet one that could be an indicator of more dangerous things to come in the future. The security of Israel’s northern border has become a major concern. As always, there is a direct link to Iran and its influence in Lebanon.
Thursday’s agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations is attracting its fair share of backlash in the Middle East. Predictably, Iran is not too thrilled with the deal. On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech in which he called the move an act of betrayal by the UAE. “They [the UAE] better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act,” he said. The remarks caused the UAE government to summon the Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi. The UAE foreign ministry called Rouhani’s speech “unacceptable and inflammatory and had serious implications for security and stability in the Gulf region”. Iran was also reminded of its obligation to protect the UAE diplomatic mission in Tehran. Considering Iran’s history of encouraging protests in front of the embassies and missions of its neighbors in Tehran when their policies go against Iranian interests, the move was smart.
Iran has had a difficult August. The Israel-UAE deal is only the latest heartburn for the regime. Tehran was already dealing with an uncertain future for Hezbollah in Lebanon following the Beirut explosion, a still unsolved string of fires and explosions at energy and nuclear sites inside of Iran, the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, and the prospect of deeper economic sanctions looming in the future. After a US resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran was defeated at the UN on Friday President Trump has vowed there will be snapback sanctions. The exact mechanism for bringing the snapback into play is being contested. The European Union claims since the US unilaterally removed itself from the JCPOA it does not have the power to bring about snapback sanctions. Washington claims otherwise. Either way, the Trump administration does have the power to levy even stricter sanctions on Iran, and pressure friendly nations to do the same.
Iran will be on the radar for the next couple of weeks at least so I suggest keeping an eye on news coming out of the Persian Gulf region.