BEIRUT: U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran coupled with ever more frequent Israeli strikes against Tehran's loyal forces in Syria, mainly the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, are leaving the Islamic Republic with only a few options.
Iran could try to contain the economic repercussions of renewed U.S sanctions and bear the burden of Israeli strikes in Syria.
These sanctions, however, would further plunge Tehran’s economy into stagnation and increase the risk of domestic instability as both U.S and European multinationals are practically forced out of Iran. The failure to retaliate against Israeli attacks, on the other hand, would further embolden the Jewish state to continue targeting Iran’s proxies in Syria.
This unsustainable scenario, in the long run, might prompt Iran to retaliate, through its proxies, by targeting U.S forces in Syria, Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights or even Israel itself; a move that could draw a fierce U.S and Israeli response and risk an all-out war on both the Lebanese and Syrian fronts.
This leaves Iran with a third and last option: to seek a compromise deal with the U.S that would involve, not only new restrictions on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs but also limiting Tehran's military interventions across the Middle East as U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in May.
"I'm hopeful in the days and weeks ahead we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behavior, not just their nuclear program, but their missiles and their malign behavior as well," Pompeo said.
Under this scenario, Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s call for dialogue over a national defense strategy might this time resonate with Iran and Hezbollah who might, at some point, find in such a strategy a straw to clutch at.
While previous calls for a national defense strategy, under former President Michel Sleiman, have fallen on deaf ears, Hezbollah now has a staunch ally in the country’s top post but more importantly, the party and its allies now control an almost two-thirds majority in Parliament.
This could pave the way for the legitimization of Hezbollah’s weapons within the framework of a national defense strategy that resembles the deal that led to the institutionalization rather than integration of the mostly Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization (PMF) Forces in Iraq.
Instead of incorporating PMF fighters into the command chain of Iraq’s armed forces, the largely Iranian-sponsored paramilitary group have become an autonomous force as of November 2016 when Iraq’s parliament passed a law recognizing the PMF as “an independent military formation as part of the Iraqi armed forces and linked to the Commander-in-Chief.”
The law positions the PMF as a legitimate armed entity under the National Security Council on par with the Ministries of Defense and Interior rather than placing those forces under the authority of one of these two ministries. In other words, the law paves the way for the PMF to infiltrate state institutions and secure government funding, yet continue to act to a large degree independently from the state’s chain of command.
A similar deal in Lebanon could very well suit Hezbollah as the U.S ramps up pressure on the party.
Potential U.S sanctions targeting key Hezbollah allies and members of the Lebanese government might further accelerate this process in a bid to protect the Iranian-backed party and its associates.
While the West might welcome such a deal, Lebanese should be wary of a national defense strategy on Iran’s terms.
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