A Nuclear Nightmare for Lebanon
A deal with Iran would be a boon for Hezbollah and a disaster for my country.
TERROR BOOST: Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard celebrate a missile launch. Their country stands to make a windfall of up to $150 billion from a deal with the U.S. PHOTO: MOSTAFA QOTBI/IRNA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
By AHMAD EL-ASSAAD
June 29, 2015 2:25 p.m. ET
Ever since it entered the Syrian civil war, the Iranian-funded Lebanese-Shiite terror outfit Hezbollah has suffered tremendously and in many different ways. Over the past two years, more than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters have died in that war, and the Lebanese people’s resentment toward the group has increased. Lebanese Shiites who don’t belong to Hezbollah have also been targeted for scorn by the rest of the country, even though many of us oppose its vicious ways.
Long gone are the days when a large portion of the Lebanese population believed that Hezbollah is there to protect them and Lebanon. The mask has fallen off. Most Lebanese now see Hezbollah for what it is: a militia that works for the Iranian regime and must therefore obey Tehran’s orders. And to quiet the disenchanted voices, to make them dare not speak out, especially in the Shiite areas, Hezbollah has become more oppressive than ever.
The war in Syria has been a big financial burden on Hezbollah as well. The cash coming from Tehran is not what it used to be. In many Shiite neighborhoods, Hezbollah is asking people for donations. This has weakened the image of Hezbollah, as people see that its coffers are no longer filled as they once were.
Most young men join Hezbollah not because they believe in its talk about “resistance,” but simply because it’s the only option for the poor, unemployed and uneducated Shiites to earn a few hundred dollars a month.
The source of Hezbollah’s financial troubles is obvious: The Iranian regime has spent exorbitant sums trying to support and sustain the Assad regime in Damascus. With a population of approximately 80 million, Iran’s gross domestic product is only $369 billion. The United Arab Emirates, by comparison, with a population of nine million, has a GDP of $402 billion.
Yet despite its penurious position, Iran continues to ignore its domestic and social problems. Instead, just like the old Soviet Union, it is stretching its influence throughout the Middle East as if it were an economic powerhouse, not an economic disaster.
Furthermore, Tehran views Hezbollah’s results over the past 33 years as such a success that it is now franchising it. From Hamas in the Palestinian territories to the Sadrists in Iraq to the Houthis in Yemen, these proxy terrorist organizations are an exact replica of Hezbollah.
Now the Obama administration is negotiating a flawed nuclear deal with the Iranian regime that will see Tehran get a windfall of up to $150 billion. With so much cash on hand, Tehran would surely create new Hezbollah franchises elsewhere in the Middle East and order all these radical proxy groups to wage even more wars in the region.
At the very least, Tehran would be eager to give a good boost to its pride and joy—Hezbollah—and help it buy its way out of the problems it is facing in Lebanon now.
I recently met in Washington D.C. with senators, members of Congress and think-tank analysts. When I shared my worries with those close to the Obama administration, the response was, “Let’s get a deal now on the nuclear issue and then we’ll work out a plan on how to stand up to this Iranian invasion of the Middle East.”
When I pressed them further on the matter, I got no answers. What kind of plan are we talking about? Who would implement such a plan and confront the various Iranian proxy groups? Would the U.S. be willing to put American boots on the ground?
It has become clear to me that there is no plan. At best, if there will ever be a plan, it will be as successful as the one we see unfolding today against Islamic State. There is no doubt that a nuclear deal with Iran would be a nightmare for my beloved Lebanon and for all the other countries in the Middle East that are controlled, or could be controlled, by Iranian proxy groups.
With this deal, my Lebanon won’t be able to free itself in the foreseeable future from the control of Hezbollah. It will never again be the Switzerland of the Middle East, will never prosper and thrive again like it did in the 1960s and early ’70s. To those who say that this nuclear deal is a recipe for peace, I say that this deal is an invitation for more wars in the Middle East.
Mr. El-Assaad is chairman of the Lebanese Option Party.