Over the past few weeks, frustrated and fed-up demonstrators have taken to the streets of Lebanon and Iraq to voice grievances against their respective governments. The perception of Iranian infiltration and influence certainly continue to impact this political shake-up in both countries.
These protests have toppled two governments in just three days. Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister, announced his resignation last week. Iraq’s President, Barham Sailh, stated that prime minister Abdul Mahdi had also agreed to resign from office once a successor is decided upon.
In both Iraq and Lebanon, political factions are divided by religions and sects. These government systems are designed to limit sectarian conflict by ensuring a share of power to different communities. However, in both regions, prominent Shia parties are conjoined with Iran. Since protesters are demanding an end to their governments’ power-sharing system, Tehran is in trouble.
Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei announced via Twitter on Thursday that “the [protesters] have justifiable demands, but they should know their demands can only be fulfilled within the legal structure and framework of their country. When the legal structure is disrupted in a country, no action can be carried out.”
This statement, riddled with irony, completely discounts the revolution which birthed the government Khamenei currently leads. The ayatollah also verified how deeply entrenched Hezbollah has become in Lebanon’s political fabric.
Hezbollah is certainly the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most successful export. For over two decades, Tehran has played the role of puppetmaster in Beirut, attempting to counter the influence of its enemies: The U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah’s critical influence in the region was demonstrated both during the 2006 war with Israel and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Although Hezbollah’s military wing, the IRGC, was rightfully designated as a terror organization in April by President Trump, the organization’s military and political wings work in tandem to export the regime’s disturbing agenda. In 2017, the U.S. State Department designated over 250 operatives and 150 companies with Hezbollah ties. Last year, the details of Project Cassandra exposed the sophistication and breadth of Hezbollah’s billion-dollar criminal enterprise.
Since Tehran heavily invests in Hezbollah’s role globally, these protests do not bode well for the regime. Iranian leadership clearly grasps the magnitude of these demonstrations, since its officials have attempted to paint them as manifestations of foreign meddling. Supreme Leader Khamenei has accused “U.S. and Western intelligence services, with the financial backing of evil countries,” of orchestrating these protests.
In Iraq, anti-Iran sentiment has monopolized the demonstrations. Last week in Baghdad, protesters were pictured torching an Iranian flag. Protestors on Sunday threw gasoline bombs at the Iranian consulate in Karbala. The former head of the Iraqi National Archives explained that “the revolution is not anti-American; it is anti-Iran, it is anti-religion, [and] anti-political religion, not religion as such.” Pro-Iranian paramilitary forces have violently intervened in recent demonstrations. Since October 1st, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reports that 301 protesters have been killed, and thousands more injured.
As Tehran continues to dismiss these protests as inauthentic and foreign-led, demonstrators will only gain more momentum. While Iran grapples with the economic consequences of President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, it may not be able to ultimately survive the onslaught of these dual protests.
Maya Carlin is an M.A. candidate in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at IDC Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government in Israel. She is also the Associate Producer at the Center for Security Policy, located in Washington D.C.