[Marxism] Iran’s Leaders See Threats in Iraq and Lebanon Protests
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 1 07:22:11 MDT 2019
NY Times, Nov. 1, 2019
Iran’s Leaders See Threats in Iraq and Lebanon Protests
By Farnaz Fassihi
Iran’s hierarchy often rails against the United States, Israel and Saudi
Arabia as direct threats to its security and regional influence. But
lately the authorities in Tehran have turned their attention to two new
sources of worry: Lebanon and Iraq.
Enormous antigovernment demonstrations in both countries, some tinged
with hostility and resentment toward Iran, have suddenly put Iran’s
interests at risk. They have also raised the possibility of inspiring
protests inside Iran itself.
If the Lebanese and Iraqi protesters succeed in toppling their
governments and weakening established political parties with deep ties
to Iran’s leaders, Iran stands to lose decades of financial, political
and military investments that have turned it into one of the Middle
East’s biggest powers.
On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is
revered by some Lebanese and Iraqi Shiites as a spiritual leader,
inveighed against the protests — a signal of the danger he sees lurking
in them. Iran also closed several border crossings with Iraq to both
travelers and trade, Iranian state media reported.
“The U.S. and Western intelligence agencies, with the help of money from
regional countries, are instigating unrest in the region,” Ayatollah
Khamenei said in a speech. “I advise Lebanon and Iraq to make it a
priority to stabilize these security threats.”
The events in both countries have been portrayed negatively in Iranian
media. Officials and conservative commentators in Iran have branded the
uprisings as “sedition” — a term they used for domestic antigovernment
demonstrations in 2009 and 2017. Some suggested that American, Israeli
and Saudi provocateurs had stoked the unrest in order to weaken Iran and
create divisions with its key regional allies.
But Iranian officials also are wary of the infectious power of popular
protests in their neighboring countries and the common grievances that
Lebanese and Iraqis share with ordinary Iranians. The last wave of
nationwide protests in Iran in 2017, much like those in its Arab
counterparts today, are rooted in the economy, unemployment and
frustration at government corruption.
Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, raised the possibility on
Thursday that he would resign. Two days earlier, Lebanon’s prime
minister, Saad Hariri, announced his resignation. There is no sign that
protests in either Iraq or Lebanon will abate anytime soon.
“The perception of Iranian leadership is that these movements are an
existential threat,” said Joseph Bahoud, a Middle East expert with
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Still, he said, “they still
have a lot of cards to play before resorting to open violence to crush
Ayatollah Khamenei said in his speech that he had ordered security
forces to be on alert to counter the uprisings. His comments suggested
he may have wanted Iran’s Shiite proxies in Iraq and Lebanon to battle
the crowds. The Hezbollah organization in Lebanon and many pro-Iranian
militias in Iraq operate under the guidance of Iran’s Islamic
Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Analysts said Iran would try different tactics to counter the protests.
In Lebanon, the aim is to divide the movement and distance Shiites —
including the two dominant Shiite political and militant groups,
Hezbollah and Amal — from the call to overthrow the entire political
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has already asked supporters to
stay off the streets. Like Ayatollah Khamenei, he has suggested that the
protests were instigated by foreign countries.
Lebanese riot police officers grab an antigovernment demonstrator in
Beirut on Thursday.Credit...Anwar Amro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Iran is also counting on intimidation to disperse the Lebanese
protesters. On Tuesday a group of plainclothes militia wearing black,
described by others as Hezbollah loyalists, raided the main protest site
in downtown Beirut, beating protesters and dismantling their tents.
Since then, the crowds have thinned.
With Mr. Hariri’s resignation, the prospect of a political vacuum in
Lebanon looms if a new government cannot be formed.
Iraq presents a more complicated challenge for Iran. Maj. Gen. Qassim
Suleimani, commander of an elite force of the Revolutionary Guards, who
has visited Iraq many times in recent years, went to Baghdad recently to
help the government manage the uprising. In Shiite populated cities
where Iran-backed militias have a strong base, like the holy city of
Karbala, clashes are reported to have been fierce.
Unlike the Lebanese, Iraqis have been more openly critical of Iran —
burning its flag, chanting for the country to leave, defacing posters of
Ayatollah Khamenei and attacking the headquarters of Shiite militias
supported by the Revolutionary Guards.
An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and politician, Moktada al-Sadr, has
defied Iran and sided with the protesters. Mr. al-Sadr attended a
protest in the city of Najaf on Tuesday with an Iraqi flag wrapped
around his shoulders. Mr. al-Sadr has called for the government of Iraq
Prominent hard-line Iranian politicians and commentators have openly
tried to stoke an inter-Shiite conflict in the region. They have called
protesters stooges of the West and criticized Mr. al-Sadr as
unpredictable, unprincipled and a Shiite “parasite.”
Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor in chief of the conservative Kayhan
newspaper and a senior adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, wrote a column
calling for Iraqis and Lebanese to seize the American and Saudi
embassies. Hamid Reza Zandi, a commentator, called for people to burn
American and Saudi flags as a “big no” to the uprisings.
Analysts said Iran had a precedent of selectively supporting uprisings
in the region if they are in line with its ideology and objectives.
During the Arab Spring, for example, Iran backed the demonstrators
against the governments of Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. In Syria, it sided
with the government against the protesters and was instrumental in
helping President Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand against rebels in
Syria’s eight-year civil war.
“Khamenei, who has invested so much in the region both financially and
in manpower, is not going to allow protesters to compromise Iran’s
regional dominance,” said Nader Hashemi, the director of the Center for
Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. “No matter what it takes.”
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