Clashes among various protest factions as well as with police have escalated in Beirut over the past days, amid nearly two weeks of mass anti-government demonstrations which have seen up to one million hit the streets, or up to 25% of the population, angry over widespread government corruption and as extreme lack of confidence in Lebanon's currency and the central bank rises. The sheer size and intensity of the protests which has led to over 12 days of shuttered banks, schools, and public institutions amid gridlock and literal roadblocks, led to Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday resigning his post as prime minister, saying he had hit a “dead end” in trying to resolve the crisis.
Western media reports have begun blaming Hezbollah for attacking anti-government protest camps in the Lebanese capital, after the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah has grown critical of the mass movement, saying it's being fueled by "foreign powers". Others have blamed the violence, which involved stick-wielding men beating up protesters, on the rival Amal faction.
Regardless, Iran on Wednesday joined in the blame-game, with no less than Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, weighing in with a series of statements slamming the 'hidden hand' of the United States and Israel for seeking the destabilize Lebanon and Iraq through protests which have gripped both countries.
Khamenei went on a tirade in a series of tweets:“The biggest damage enemies can inflict on a country is to deprive them of security, as they are doing today in some countries in the region,” he wrote. “I recommend those who care in Iraq and Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the US, the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries.”
Likely the "reactionary countries" he has in mind include Saudi Arabia and its other gulf allies — long very active and with deep pockets in Lebanese politics.
The top Iranian cleric's words were at the same time echoed by President Hassan Rouhani’s office, who's chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, was quoted in Reuters as saying:“Our advice has always been to call for peace and (stopping) interference by foreign forces in these countries.”
I recommend those who care in #Iraq and #Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the U.S., the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) October 30, 2019
The presidential spokesman added that Tel Aviv, Washington and Riyadh were “riding a wave of popular demands and providing those [foreign] forces with financial support.”
This as Iraq, which shares a border with Iran, has for the past month been hit with severely violent anti-government protests, resulting in a death toll now over 250, and thousands wounded. Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias have reportedly been increasingly involved in assisting security forces in putting down the popular unrest which has swept the country - by some accounts even deploying snipers. This has increased fears that the even larger, but on the whole much more peaceful protests in Lebanon could also soon become armed and sectarian just in Iraq.
Hezbollah, commonly viewed by western leaders as the "long arm of Iran" inside Lebanon, has formally come out against the protests this week, urging the crowds to disperse, as Voice of America describes:
But in recent days, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah grew critical of the protests, claiming they have been backed and financed by foreign powers and rival political groups. He called on his supporters to leave the rallies, and urged the protesters on Friday to remove the roadblocks. The mass rallies have paralyzed a country already grappling with a severe fiscal crisis.
Hezbollah and its allies dominate the current government and is the country's most powerful organization, building its credibility on its resistance to Israel's years-long occupation of parts of Lebanon.
It appears the pro-Iran axis fears potential total political collapse and fracturing of the Lebanese state, which would be used of Hezbollah's longtime enemies in the region to push the Shia organization out altogether.
People in Lebanon I've been talking to have been warning that the protests are being co-opted. The US-funded NED network has been trying to take control, the corporate media is spewing lies about Hezbollah, and now the US government is openly saying ithttps://t.co/sVy6PxqLo8— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) October 30, 2019
Considering the potential for such a 'chaotic collapse' scenario, regional war correspondent Elijah Magnier wrote the following of what the foreign elements would hope to gain:
However, even though the protests have now taken on another dimension, the rightful demands of protesters will not be achieved by bringing down the entire political system. Lebanon needs legislative authority to modify laws and a government to execute and implement them. If the people appointed by the system fall, who would take over? The President? The protesters are asking for his resignation. The Army? Its high-ranking officers are appointed by the same politicians accused of corruption. It is not difficult to imagine a possible split inside the army, leading the country into total chaos.
This would be exactly the result desired by countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, who would be happy to watch Lebanon sliding deeper into chaos. This would entangle Hezbollah, their fiercest enemy, in the internal situation of the country and would prevent Hezbollah from directing their efforts to stop Israeli ambitions in Lebanon.
And also considering that Lebanon's citizens have long been wary of a return to the civil war period which marked the late 20th century, but more importantly that there's still a devastating sectarian war in the final phases in neighboring Syria — which has at times spilled over briefly across Lebanese borders — a complete collapse of the Lebanese state in this context is extremely dangerous.