Iran seeks to add Beirut to list of capitals it controls
October 18 (UPI) – Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has made no secret of his desire to dominate the Middle East.
Its policy of aggressive expansionism has led it to spend more than $ 100 billion to support Bashar al-Assad’s bloody civil war in Syria, which is approaching its 11th year. It funded, supplied and controlled the brutal Shiite militias of neighboring Iraq, turning them into the ruthless Hashd al-Shabi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), whose pro-Iranian political wing has just won seats in recent legislative elections.
It has funded and supplied weapons and missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen since the civil war started there in 2014. It has nurtured and funded terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon, deploying them as a proxy army in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
It is no wonder that Khamenei and his cronies now claim to control three Arab capitals, including Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a and they would very much like to add Beirut to this list.
The massive explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut in August 2020, killing 218 and injuring thousands, sent shockwaves across the Middle East. It soon became clear that the Lebanese authorities knew that more than 2,700 tonnes of highly combustible ammonium nitrate had been stored in a giant warehouse at the port for years.
But generally, the responsibility for the time bomb had been passed down the line. The military, politicians, officials and judges all refused to accept responsibility, until finally the prime minister ordered the warehouse door to be sealed as a security measure. Unfortunately, no one told the welders who were sent to seal the door what was inside.
In the 15 months that have passed since that fateful day, Lebanon has become a virtually zero case. The Lebanese economy and currency collapsed. The country now has the third highest inflation rate in the world, even worse than Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Power outages, previously unknown in the oil-rich country, are now a common feature, pushing businesses and industry out of the country. The existence of vast untapped hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean has long been known, but Beirut’s political paralysis has prevented their exploitation.
Sensing that America lost interest in the Middle East after its calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan and pledged to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq, the Iranians seized the opportunity to consolidate their hold on Lebanon . The mullahs’ regime has started sending convoys of oil tankers to Beirut and they have offered to build two new power plants. Any threat to their hegemony will be ruthlessly suppressed by their Hezbollah allies.
Indeed, gunfire and mortar fire reminiscent of the 1975 civil war erupted in Beirut last week, when protesters demanding the dismissal of a judge investigating last year’s explosion were attacked. The protest was organized by Hezbollah and they immediately accused the Saudi-backed Christian Lebanese Forces party of mounting the assault, in which six Shiites were killed. The eruption of a new civil conflict involving the three diverse communities of Lebanon, Shiite, Sunni and Christian, would directly play into the hands of the Iranian regime.
When the civil war broke out in Iraq, it was largely sparked by Tehran. The Iranian regime had encouraged its puppet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to crack down on the Sunni minority population, triggering a reaction that was quickly exploited by the Islamic State. In 2014, ISIS invaded Iraq, quickly seizing around 40% of its territory. The Iranian regime then seized their opportunity.
Claiming to help their Iraqi neighbors and the West in the fight against ISIS, the mullahs sent the terrorist leader of their extraterritorial Quds force, General Qassem Soleimani, to lead the fight against the insurgents. Commanding Iraqi Shiite militias, Soleimani oversaw the genocidal slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis in the ancient cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, leaving smoldering ruins in its wake.
Soleimani and Hashd al-Shabi’s Iraqi leader Abu Mehdi Mohandes were killed by a US drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump at Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020. This caused a huge setback for the Iranian regime. Combined with their own economy collapsing under harsh US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 460,000 people, unrest is mounting in Iran.
In a bid to control the 80 million Iranians and prevent another national uprising similar to that of November 2019, Khamenei propelled his henchman, Ebrahim Raisi, to the presidency following a mock election in June. .
Raisi is known as the Butcher of Tehran, for his alleged involvement in the slaughter of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly supporters of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI / MEK) in 1988. In his previous post as chief from the judiciary, Raisi is accused of leading the murder of 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 national uprising. Thousands more were injured, and many arrested, tortured and executed. Khamenei clearly believes that an uncompromising and ruthless president will allow Iran to restore its supremacy in the Middle East and flex its muscles around the world.
Adding Beirut to Iran’s list of pleading capitals in the Middle East is clearly the next goal for Khamenei and his fanatical new president. Last week’s armed clashes in the Lebanese capital, in which two Hezbollah militants were among those killed, will lead to renewed support for Tehran’s militant Shiite terrorist group.
The mullahs will urge Hezbollah to retaliate. They know that the group’s advanced training program for other pro-Iranian Shiite militias across the Middle East is of paramount importance to their own survival. Hezbollah’s vast illicit financing actions, combined with its procurement, intelligence, cyber and disinformation activities, have made it a key regional player acting at Iran’s behest. For the Iranian regime, using Hezbollah to make Lebanon a client state is a primary objective.
Struan Stevenson is the Campaign for Change in Iran coordinator. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), chairman of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran intergroup (2004 -14). He is chairman of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Association for Iraqi Freedom.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.