The results of the Iranian presidential elections were everything the opponents of Hezbollah in Beirut needed to complete the scene that they have come to label as the “political defeat” of Hezbollah, following the party’s military victory in the Syrian city of Qusair.
Since the strategic town fell into the hands of Hezbollah fighters on June 5, opponents of the Shiite organization in Lebanon declared — publicly and privately — that this victory will adversely affect the leading Shiite power in Lebanon, both at the political and diplomatic levels. These opponents argue that the delicate and fragile Lebanese balance does not allow any team to achieve complete victory and that any victory achieved by any party in any partial battle would constitute the first step toward a subsequent defeat under this balance. According to Hezbollah's opponents, all of the previous Lebanese experiences have served as proof of this.
Thus, following the fall of Qusair, Hezbollah's opponents began to state what they deemed to be indicators of a counterattack on all levels.
Internationally, Europe started its violent offensive through French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Then, the United States announced Washington’s willingness to arm the Syrian opposition against the backdrop of Hezbollah’s participation and the accusations made against the regime of Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons.
In terms of the Arab world, it wasn’t long before the pro-Syrian jihadists took action. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is made up of six Gulf oil states, issued a strong-worded statement against Hezbollah and declared that it has started taking action against its interests in these countries. Based on past experience, this can only infer a series of expulsions and deportations of Lebanese citizens working in these oil states for the mere reason that they belong to the Shiite sect. This affiliation is sufficient to accuse the Lebanese Shiites of support for Hezbollah. Such steps adversely affect the Lebanese economy, as the remittances of the Lebanese abroad constitute the last source of support left for the economy during the recession plaguing the country.
In Lebanon, the anti-Hezbollah front seemed to follow one clear tendency: Attack! Lebanese President Michel Suleiman summoned the Iranian ambassador in Beirut, asking for Tehran's help to stop Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria before announcing his intention to submit a formal complaint to the Arab League and the UN Security Council against Syrian violations of the Lebanese border.
Meanwhile, the leader of the anti-Hezbollah Sunni opposition, former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, sent from outside Lebanon a long message to the Lebanese. In the message, he attacked Hezbollah more violently than ever, accusing it of threatening the existence of Lebanon as a state and nation, as it has turned, according to him, “into the spearhead of a Levant project that includes many regional countries under the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Hezbollah’s opponents were recording all of these factors — which are positive according to their accounts — in order to besiege their opponent before they add to them another factor that came unannounced: the new Iranian president. According to them, the results of the presidential elections in Tehran on June 14 came as a shock to Hezbollah because the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, is not a radical Iranian who supports Hezbollah's role in the region. Consequently, they secured the ingredient needed to complete the siege of the Shiite organization. Following the series of sieges that came from abroad, a contributing factor came from the inside and helped put further pressure on Hezbollah, causing some to reconsider its role and expansion.
In response to the interpretation provided by these opponents, quarters close to Hezbollah in Beirut settle for casting an ironic smile. They emphasize that Hezbollah’s follow-up of all the reactions to the Qusair battle has thus far left it completely reassured. The US position is nothing but a temporary verbal phase aimed at absorbing the dissatisfaction expressed by Washington's allies and friends with the fact that Washington, according to them, has completely abandoned them.
The European reactions do not constitute any decisive factor and they do not have a real impact on the actual balances in the Middle East.
For their part, the Arab positions are not new. Hezbollah became accustomed to them long ago. Suffice it to remember, according to the same quarters, that in July 2006 — when the 33-day war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel, following Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in the framework of a qualitative operation at the border — Riyadh was the first to describe Hezbollah as a group of “adventurers.” It even went so far as to emphasize that they would be held accountable for what they had done. Therefore, the Gulf positions cannot be described as an interfering element.
Sources close to Hezbollah say that the group is showing interest in two sole issues following the Qusair battle:
First, it is following the opinion of the Christian public regarding events in Lebanon and Syria, which, according to Hezbollah, is thus far very reassuring. This is evidenced by the position of top Christian political leader Gen. Michel Aoun and that of the highest Christian religious leader, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai.
Second, the group is following the shift in the public opinion of other communities, especially the Druze and Sunnis, in light of the overall outcome of the battle in Syria. Contained in this issue is a sort of wager on having these two communities soften their positions on the basis of following and accepting those who have come out victorious.
As for the wager on the results of the Iranian presidential elections, the quarters close to Hezbollah believe that this is not even an issue worth commenting on. While acknowledging some preference for any of the candidates of the hard-line triple alliance — Ali Akbar Velayati, Saeed Jalili and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf — the aforementioned quarters emphasize that Iran’s foreign policy and the strategic interests of this central state in the region go beyond the name of any candidate or tendency of any president. They believe that Tehran has fixed goals only under different names, and that those who ignore this fact are mistaken, just like those who previously bet that Qusair would not fall, and later ended up betting on a price for its downfall.
Jean Aziz is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Lebanon Pulse. He is a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar and the host of a weekly political talk show on OTV, a Lebanese TV station. He also teaches communications at the American University of Technology and the Université Saint-Esprit De Kaslik in Lebanon.