Iran abuses Lebanon’s ‘weaker’ state, happy Hezbollah is in control: Expert

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Iran has “abused” a “weaker Lebanese state” for a long time and is happy to have Hezbollah controlling the government in Beirut, Behnam Ben Taleblu a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) told Al Arabiya in an interview.

“Let's be clear about one thing Iran has used and abused the Lebanese states for a long time. It knows that a weaker Lebanese state means a more dependent Lebanese state. And that's why Iran is happy to have militias like Lebanese Hezbollah control parts, if not most of the government,” Taleblu said.

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He said that Tehran was using militias in the region such as Lebanese Hezbollah and other militias in Iraq and Syria to outlast the pressure of US sanctions on Iran.

Iran has a long history of arming and financially supporting Shia militias to further its influence in the region.

Taleblu explained the strategies Tehran uses to transport “men, money and munition across the region” by air, land and sea.

He said: “By air, it seems to be transporting a lot of men, the fighters, particularly militias into Syria. By land it seems comfortable transporting money and munitions into Iraq and Syria. By sea, we know Iran is trying to get its oil from through the Strait of Hormuz, and of course through the Suez Canal into the international market.”

He added that Iran uses already existing transportation networks across the region to “safely transfer men, money, and munitions because it fears that it's airplanes or its ships could get shot at or intercepted.”

Taleblu said that has presented a challenge for the US to clamp down on those routes and monitor the traffic flows connected to Iran, that is especially true for the Iraq-Syria border, where he said “there are tons of pro-Iran Shia militias on both sides.”

Iran-Lebanon intricate ties

Lebanon, which is on the verge of economic collapse, is cash strapped and deadlocked with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a financial bailout.

The IMF has been demanding that the Lebanese government make reforms. Hezbollah, a dominating power in Lebanon and one of the main backers of the government, is against enacting any real reform.

Early May, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah warned the Lebanese government negotiate the terms of any financial assistance from the IMF very carefully.

“We are not against Lebanon requesting assistance from any side in the world,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech adding that what is not acceptable “is that we go hand over our necks to the International Monetary Fund or any other organization.”

He said that the “conditions” of any IMF help should be dealt with “great responsibility and strict caution.”

Last week, there have been reports that Iran offered to “help” Lebanon during its crisis by sending loaded fuel tankers, and Hezbollah supporters circulated a hashtag on social media calling for their government to accept the reported offer.

Taleblu said that any oil Lebanon accepts from Iran would be subject to US sanctions.

“Any Lebanese businessperson, any Lebanese bank, any Lebanese national person, who does facilitate the sale, supply, transfer or storage of Iranian oil could be subject to US penalties.”
As for the Lebanese crisis, Taleblu questioned whether Lebanon “deserved” a bailout, and highlighted the possibility of Iran benefiting from a financially healthier Lebanon.

“Lebanon… is a state already punctured by Iran's most successful terror proxy, Hezbollah. But the question is right now {for) the international community (is) does Lebanon deserve a bailout? Does Lebanon deserve greater financial aid to wean it off of Iran?”

“Whether the Lebanese banking system succeeds or fails, Iran is positioning itself to win no matter what and that's the dangerous part for policymakers,” he added.

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