In recent days, a rash of angry demonstrations have torn across Lebanon’s urban centers, with banks the focus of particular outrage in this cash-starved country, after the lira lost 98 percent of its value. So, as Hassan Nasrallah strode up to his rostrum, what themes did he choose to focus on in his address to the nation?
In fact, he treated us to a bizarre tribute to the Iranian people’s “massive participation” in nationwide rallies celebrating the Islamic Revolution’s anniversary. Disregarding the civil disorder in his own nation and continuing anti-regime protests across Iran, Nasrallah carped that the media had ignored these “millions-strong marches” in support of the Islamic Republic. He added that those who bet on the downfall of the ayatollahs’ regime would be disappointed. Indeed, in such a scenario, none would be more disappointed than Lebanese people themselves, who continue to be held hostage by the shameless puppets of this theocratic regime.
To our astonishment, an enraged Nasrallah revealed that all of Lebanon’s travails are the fault of the “Great Satan,” thundering: “I tell the American government that if they want to sow chaos in Lebanon, you will lose everything.” And how will Hezbollah retaliate for these US “conspiracies against Lebanon?” Nasrallah warned America that, “If you push Lebanon into chaos, we are ready to use our arms against your protege, Israel … We are ready to resort to the option of war. Today, I say that whoever wants to push Lebanon into chaos or total collapse must expect from us the unimaginable.”
Lebanon has undergone one of the most severe economic implosions of any nation in modern history. Does Nasrallah seriously believe that it is in any shape for embroilment in a wholesale conflict with the amassed armies of America, Israel and the remainder of the Western world? Israel’s latest deadly airstrike against Damascus security apparatus targets appears like a retort to Nasrallah’s delusions, demonstrating how easily Hezbollah’s capabilities could be shattered. What American conspiracies are we talking about? Did the US ambassador secretly incite Hezbollah and its allies to sabotage Lebanon’s political establishment and leave the country without a functioning government for years on end? Did the CIA trick Nasrallah into stockpiling enough explosives to blow up half the country in Hezbollah-controlled port warehouses? Did Joe Biden goad Iran and the “resistance” into exploiting Lebanese financial institutions for money laundering, in order to scare off the International Monetary Fund and have these banks targeted by sanctions? Please enlighten us, Mr. Nasrallah.
But Nasrallah’s real bete noire was how Israel is already reaping megabucks from gas exploitation, with no prospects of an imminent Lebanese cash windfall. “If there is intentional procrastination regarding the issue of oil and gas from Lebanese waters, will we allow Israel to continue extracting oil and gas from Karish?” Nasrallah declared. “I tell you never. This means if you want us to starve – we will kill you.” Yet it is Hezbollah’s aggressive brinkmanship and Lebanese dysfunction that have delayed progress toward exploiting Lebanese reserves. Lebanese people reacted with abject horror at Nasrallah’s warmongering speech. Meanwhile, inept measures by the state risk exacerbating Lebanon’s financial chaos. The caretaker economy minister announced that businesses would be allowed to price their goods in dollars. Who can access dollars, other than Hezbollah employees?
Following the targeting of banks, Prime Minister Najib Mikati dismissively commented that those out burning tires and protesting did not look much like investors – a sign of how detached the ruling classes are from Lebanon’s current reality, where even the middle classes have been reduced to considering sending their children to orphanages for their own survival, while people die due to a lack of medication for preventable diseases. Beirut’s devastated banking sector – once the region’s Switzerland-like financial hub – will take decades to recover from this implosion in its capabilities, reputation and workforce. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Al-Qard Al-Hasan banking network exploits this collapse to relentlessly expand its own branches, capitalizing on Hezbollah’s and Tehran’s capabilities, which run parallel to Lebanese state institutions.
Hezbollah propaganda outlets have been pedaling a pipe dream of salvation that the region is on the brink of a diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and the GCC states; including possible outreach by high-level Gulf officials to Damascus. Diplomats closely appraised of the behind-the-scenes negotiations told me this is pure fantasy. They note that negotiations have been led by hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps figures, who only want to talk about reopening embassies and facilitating two-way travel, while refusing outright to discuss the primary GCC concerns of IRGC entrenchment in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah commanders – with their luxury SUVs, access to dollars and foreign goods – having grown fat on narcotics smuggling revenues, are insulated from economic ruination. But their opulent lifestyle in upmarket Beirut neighborhoods will abruptly end if war were really to reach Lebanon’s shores.
Nasrallah knows his conspiracy theories are dangerous nonsense. However, he apparently would rather see Lebanon entirely destroyed than make the necessary political compromises that could extricate Lebanon from its predicaments; particularly as Hezbollah’s relationship with its former Christian allies appears to be disintegrating due to wrangling over the presidency and other issues. In 2006, Israel decimated Lebanon, reducing hundreds of thousands of homes to rubble and killing well over 1,000 citizens after Hezbollah rockets killed about 10 people. Doing the math, with Hezbollah’s massively upgraded missile arsenal courtesy of the IRGC, if for every 100 Israelis Hezbollah kills, retaliatory strikes kill 10,000 Lebanese; then, following such a conflagration, Nasrallah would have to crawl out of his bunker and relocate to Tehran because there will not be a country left. He does not care that his supporters in south Lebanon will again bear the brunt of Israel’s military fury.
In 2006, post-conflict Lebanon benefited from massive international aid, including billions of dollars of reconstruction funding from Gulf allies. In 2023, Lebanon has no friends to rush to its aid. Hezbollah must also think twice about whether crisis-wracked Iran would be willing to fund its reconstruction and rearmament. At a time when most Lebanese citizens are consumed by trying to ward off starvation for their families, such warmongering is grotesque. Faced with Nasrallah’s inhuman logic, Hezbollah supporters must conscientiously ponder whether they are willing to unthinkingly destroy themselves and their homeland in order to do Tehran’s bidding. Nobody anywhere should be lightly contemplating war, least of all disaster-afflicted Lebanon, which, following the past three years, already looks like it has been to hell and back.