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Lebanon’s protests look like destabilisation by proxy

October 30, 2019 at 2:58 am

Lebanese demonstrators gather at Martyrs’ Square for an anti-government protest against dire economic conditions and new tax regulations on communication on October 18, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]

Exactly two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s firebrand State Minister for Gulf Affairs, Thamer Al-Sabhan, called for “toppling Hezbollah”, promising “astonishing” developments in “the coming days”, whilst maintaining that the issue was not about bringing down the Lebanese government, despite the fact that Hezbollah forms part of it. Five days later, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who holds dual Lebanese-Saudi citizenship, announced his “shock” resignation in a statement from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. So much for not seeking to create anarchy.

In citing his reasons for his short-lived resignation (he resumed his post after almost three weeks’ captivity in the Kingdom), Hariri cited in a televised speech Iranian interference in Lebanon, referring to Hezbollah as “Iran’s arm” and a “state within a state”. Clichéd Saudi rhetoric, no doubt dictated to him by his abductors.

As current developments would have it, Hariri has resigned yet again, framing his decision as putting the nation first due to political deadlock amid growing protests across Lebanon. Was that the real reason? Just four days ago, the Saudi newspaper Okaz, quoted unnamed, official sources which had declared that Hariri will resign within the next couple of days.

WATCH: Lebanon PM resigns following protests

Expressing solidarity with the protestors, the Hezbollah movement said earlier this month that it did not want civil strife in Lebanon and opposed calls for the resignation of the government. Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah explained that the country’s problems were “systematic”, and that a new government is not the solution, given that it would probably include the same combination of existing factions. Importantly, whilst recognising the peoples’ legitimate grievances, Nasrallah warned demonstrators not to “deviate from your main cause”, lest the protest movements become hijacked and steered towards other political goals.

He is right to be concerned. We have seen this played out before in Syria, where mainstream news outlets would have us believe there was a mass, populist uprising against the government seeking regime change – essentially chaos and carnage — which simply does not benefit the people.

Protests in Lebanon - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Protests in Lebanon – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

We are also witnessing it in Iraq, where I opined that there was a planned coup to overthrow the government in Baghdad, with Iraqi intelligence discovering engineered protests months in advance. Just as I acknowledged back then, this is not to suggest that any of these protests lack legitimacy; the people are justified in expressing their frustrations and resentment of corruption and poor governance. Yet resorting to violence and torching government institutions is not the sign of patriotic activists and only serves external agendas to bring disorder and an inevitable “crackdown” response by authorities later on and used to justify destabilising the state.

I also argued that due to an unwillingness to wage war on Iran directly and the failure of the US and its regional allies in overthrowing the Syrian government, they will shift their attention towards Tehran’s other allies. Published coincidentally one day before the protest rallies started in Lebanon, initially over absurd proposals for taxes levied on WhatsApp calls, I concluded that we are likely to see further escalations in Iraq and that Lebanon had been too quiet for too long. I then suggested that we need to assess any new “revolutions” in the pipeline very critically indeed.

READ: Former Trump advisor says Lebanese protests are against Hezbollah

I would also like to remind readers that the so-called Cedar Revolution, spurred on by the 2005 assassination of Saad’s father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, resulted in a Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, with the US blaming Damascus for the murder and Syria countering that it was carried out by Israel’s Mossad, which at the very least encouraged anti-Syrian sentiments in the country. Not only did this leave Lebanon vulnerable during the war with Israel in the following year, but there were also plans formulated back in 2006 by the US to destabilise the Syrian government.

This should come as no surprise, considering that former US President George W Bush singled out both Syria and Iran as his next targets following the 2003 Iraq invasion and occupation. This was in early February 2005, a few days before the Hariri assassination. In the midst of the Iraqi insurgency in the same year, the Bush administration was impeded in its ultimate goal of rolling on towards Iran, so the then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney “decided to secure America’s left-flank by taking out Syria – either through toppling the regime internally via the CIA and Mossad, probably coupled with a strategic bombing campaign to destroy the Syrian military, or an outright invasion, supported by the fact that US forces were moved closer to the Syria-Iraq border.”

READ: Protesters block roads linking Beirut and provinces

Returning to Lebanon, in April of this year it was reported by local TV station Al-Jadeed that President Michel Aoun had received a US-Israeli document outlining plans for a civil war in Lebanon with covert false flag operations and a possible Israeli invasion. Ultimately for the benefit of Israel, the plans include support for “democratic forces”. Interestingly, there has been a few recent incidents of Israeli reconnaissance drones flying into Lebanese airspace, with some reportedly being shot down.

Tellingly, editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar newspaper Wafic Kanso said in an interview that Washington is urging the Lebanese army to continue the chaos in the country, before adding that protests were spontaneous for the first few days but then “absurd demands” began to appear such as “the overthrow of the mandate” of President Aoun.

Already Western media are fixated specifically on the Hezbollah spin throughout the protests, in addition to Waled Phares, a Lebanese-American and former Trump advisor arguing the false narrative that two million people have taken to the streets on Lebanon in protest against Hezbollah. There are also reports of violent disruptions to protestor tents attributed to Hezbollah or the rival political party Amal, with many in the Western media falsely conflating the two. In any case, Hezbollah had called on supporters to withdraw from protests and to avoid provocation leading to violence, which would then fuel calls for outside intervention.

As with trends related to the Iraq protests on social media, there is also foreign manipulation at play, as illustrated in one thread by Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies Dr Marc Owen Jones. He analysed a sample of anti-Nasrallah trending hashtags illustrating that there was a “spike” in many of the accounts in September, clearly before the Lebanon protests erupted. Most of the accounts’ location data were said to be in Saudi Arabia.

Notwithstanding some non-fatal clashes, the protests in Lebanon have largely been free of violence, but then they started peacefully in Syria and Iraq too. Unfortunately it won’t take long for the “unknown snipers” to start picking out protestors as a prelude to “regime change”. Already there are very real risks of food shortages due to roads being blocked and the closure of public institutions. US sanctions aimed at Hezbollah and institutions linked to it, including local banks, also add to Lebanon’s severe financial woes.

Meanwhile, Syria is painstakingly piecing its territory back together after years of orchestrated chaos hell-bent on overthrowing the government. The cracks are now beginning to show in Lebanon; hopefully, they are only on the surface.

READ: Lebanon needs solution to crisis in days

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.