Welcome to Part II of the ‘other Middle East news’. The first part is available on my profile. This section will touch on Lebanon and Iran, two states that appear to be miles apart but have quite close links given Iran’s support of Hezbollah, a major player in the Syrian conflict. Coinciding with this piece has been the recent announcement by US Congress leaders that they are willing to accept a punitive strike. With a Congress vote just days away (9 September) the money is on a strike by the end of the month at least.
Since 2005 Lebanon has proceeded through an incredibly difficult political period. In that year, its former prime minister was assassinated. The event served as the first fall of a domino, sparking demonstrations, the withdrawal of the occupying Syrian military and the division of the country between two blocs – one that supported Syria and one that didn’t. The subsequent years have witnessed countless crises, including the Israeli Hezbollah conflict in 2006 and the Hezbollah mini-coup in 2008. Ever since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, the divisions in Lebanese society have been further highlighted and enflamed. Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict on the side of the Bashar al-Assad regime has acted to pull Syrian combatants into the Lebanese state and the country has experienced two recent devastating bombings, in Beirut on 15 August and Tripoli on 23 August. A spike in refugee numbers has also coincided with an increase in crime and kidnapping incidents and with an impending US strike in Syria, Middle East analysts are watching with concern at the potential impact an escalation in fighting in Syria could have on its small neighbor.
*South African interest: Very little direct impact on SA in Lebanon. Trade is not extensive and political links are nearly non-existent.
Iran is an Islamic state led by an ayatollah who, despite what the media might present, holds supreme power. The country is presented as in direct competition with the US and Israel for influence in the Middle East. This is partly true. Iran’s objectives are to safeguard the state and Persian interests, extend its influence to Shiite areas in the region (Iran is predominantly Shiite Persian opposed to the predominantly Arab Muslim region), including Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, eastern Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon and counter the power of the US in the region. Its leaders are also publicly committed to the destruction of the Israeli state, hence US and Israeli paranoia over its nuclear weapons program (ongoing since the 1980s). Currently, Iran is attempting to keep its primary ally in the region, Syria, afloat. It has sent aid and men to Syria to battle the Syrian rebels, who are mainly Sunni. It is also continuing its support of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group. Should Syria fall, Iran’s influence in the region will drop dramatically as its access to Hezbollah (and its enemy, Israel) will diminish. The forthcoming US intervention is, therefore, being monitored with major concern in Tehran. If the Syrian state collapses its bargaining position on its nuclear weapons would be diminished considerably. The potential for Israeli or US strikes against its nuclear facilities also remains a pressing medium to long-term concern.
*South Africa interest: Again, any conflict involving Iran will impact SA economically. If Iran is attacked its first port of call will be to block the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40% of the world’s crude is exported annually. The shock to the market and the petrol price will be extreme. It is in SA’s interests to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the US/Israel.
Part III: In the coming days I will look at Israel and Saudi Arabia…