Hariri’s resignation and Lebanon’s raging protests are bad news for Hezbollah
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AnalysisNasrallah had been thriving in deeply dysfunctional Lebanon

Hariri’s resignation and Lebanon’s raging protests are bad news for Hezbollah

The demonstrations that toppled the PM now aim to overhaul the entire failed political system in Beirut — which the terror group has relied on to stay in control

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group drive in a convoy in support of its leader Hassan Nasrallah's speech, in the area of Fatima's Gate in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel, October 25, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)
Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group drive in a convoy in support of its leader Hassan Nasrallah's speech, in the area of Fatima's Gate in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel, October 25, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)

The resignation announcement Tuesday by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri could have been expected to please Hezbollah. After all, Hariri — the son of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered by Hezbollah emissaries in 2005 — is a longtime foe of the terror group.

But in reality, the resignation — like the protests raging across the country, which prompted it — is causing Hezbollah’s top brass a serious headache.

It is no coincidence that in his latest speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah railed against the rallies and issued an implicit threat to mobilize his staff “to prevent a [leadership] vacuum.”

It is also no coincidence that Hezbollah members were filmed Tuesday storming the protest tents in Beirut, destroying them and harming demonstrators. Similar violent clashes have broken out several times over the past week between Hezbollah supporters and the protesters, who are demanding the replacement not only of the government but also of the regime system and the current ethnic divide of power that is crippling the country.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks during an address to the nation in Beirut, Lebanon, October 29, 2019. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

Hezbollah’s negative response to the protests mainly stems from its fear that the unrest gripping Lebanon since October 17 will spiral still further out of control. Criticism of Hariri is one thing, and is welcome as far as the terror group is concerned. But changing the regime system is another thing entirely, and could cause severe tension between the different ethnic and religious groups and potentially even far more violent confrontations.

Hezbollah is comfortable with the status quo and with the current failing system. It manages to rule the country even without its members serving as prime minister or president. It controls the Lebanese army even though the chief of staff is Christian, and it sets the country’s foreign and domestic policies, while leveraging the inter-religious divide to maintain its power.

An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25 showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. (Khamenei.ir)

It does as it pleases throughout the country, including developing one of the biggest arsenals of rockets in the world and taking steps to turn them into much more dangerous precision missiles.

A true revolution in the Lebanese political system would plunge the Shiite organization into an unknown future, which could turn out to be to its benefit — but the risk is too high at the moment.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens — of all ethnicities and religions, including Shiites — have taken to the streets, is a direct result of the problematic political and economic situation in the country. Preserving the status quo is hurtling Lebanon toward bankruptcy.

Hezbollah supporters, left, burn tents in the protest camp set up by anti-government protesters near the government palace, in Beirut, Lebanon, October 29, 2019 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

With a huge number of Syrian refugees, with mounting unemployment reminiscent of places such as the Gaza Strip, with a swelling national debt, and above all with a paralyzed, rotten and corrupt political system, Lebanon’s future looks dim. Yet Hezbollah considers itself better off ruling such a country than betting on a normal, functioning Lebanon, with leaders seeking the benefit of the entire country rather than a specific sect or group.

Hariri’s announcement Tuesday that he is resigning is not particularly big news. He has resigned in the past and every such move was welcomed by Hezbollah. Over the years he has returned to the role and then again stepped down.

However, this time around, in light of the social, political and economic crisis, the resignation looks like it could eventually lead to all-out chaos, and even Hezbollah cannot predict how that will end.

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