Washington, Get Ready for More Iranian Influence After Bashar Al-Assad Falls in Syria
Many Lebanese have understandably adopted the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad as their own. During Syria’s 15-year occupation of their country, they experienced firsthand the suffering of living in the shadows of a brutal police state. Mr. Assad’s security chiefs (some recently killed) ran Lebanon with an iron fist, and are believed to be largely responsible for a string of assassinations targeting that country’s political leaders.
But once the euphoria of toppling the dictator of Damascus subsides, Lebanon is in for a rude awakening. For all his brutality, Assad is not Lebanon’s foremost curse, nor will his departure be that country’s salvation. The real threat to Lebanon’s body politic, as with most Arab societies, is the sectarian mindset that permeates all aspects of life and allows for foreign meddling in its affairs.
Over the years, the Assad regime learned how to manipulate Lebanon’s sectarian divisions to maintain its dominion over a fractured nation. But so did Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that now dominates Lebanon’s political scene. In the absence of Beirut’s Damascene master, Iran will work to fill the void left behind.
In fact, this process of growing Iranian influence is already underway and will likely accelerate after Assad’s fall. Lebanon is largely an Iranian dominion, governed by a Hezbollah dominated coalition government since the toppling of the Western leaning parliamentary majority in 2010. Key state security posts are securely within the militant group’s sphere of influence.
Tehran will likely try to make up for its loss of Assad in Damascus by tightening its grip on Beirut. And while a post-Assad majority Sunni government in Syria could help counterbalance Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, this is unlikely in the near-term, as a new and fragile government struggles to find its footing.