Aug. 24 (UPI) -- For at least three decades, Lebanon has been under the vice-like grip of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shi'ia terrorist organization.
Hezbollah has a military force that even outnumbers the Lebanese army. It pays no taxes in Lebanon and receives money, weapons and goods from Iran. It masterminds a major drug-running operation to Europe and America, collecting billions of dollars every year from cocaine and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.
It backs Bashar al-Assad's bloody civil war in Syria and channels weapons and military personnel to him and other Iranian proxies. Because it is a listed terrorist organization, many countries, including the United States and the Gulf states, have introduced sanctions and boycotts, which have crippled Lebanon's economy.
Hezbollah has an invidious track record in being behind dozens of major terrorist attacks both in Lebanon and abroad, including the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, which killed 307 people, including 241 American and 58 French military personnel, six civilians and two attackers. Hezbollah used two truck bombs filled with ammonium nitrate for those deadly attacks.
Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah owes his allegiance to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. Under the clerical regime's influence, he has turned Lebanon into a virtual Iranian province. Hezbollah is directly responsible for the suffering of the Lebanese people.
They are also accountable for the horrendous explosion on Aug. 4 that ripped the soul out of Beirut, killing over 180 and injuring more than 5,000. The blast and ensuing carnage in Beirut was triggered by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port since 2013. The ammonium nitrate had been offloaded from a Russian-owned cargo ship that had been impounded in the Mediterranean port.
Despite repeated warnings of the dangers involved in storing such huge quantities of the highly volatile chemical, a combination of negligence, gross incompetence and endemic corruption that characterizes Hezbollah's control of Lebanon led to the catastrophic explosion.
According to press reports, attempts by the Beirut Customs Chief Badri Daher to sell the ammonium nitrate had stalled because he could not get permission from the courts, which claimed it was outside their jurisdiction. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the Ministry of the Interior, the Port Authority of Beirut and the Lebanese Customs, each of which is controlled by a separate religious political faction, began a fierce turf war over who should benefit from the sale and pocket the profits.
As with everything in Beirut, no decision could be reached without the agreement of Hezbollah. Profiteering, corruption and the usual institutional ineptitude left the explosive cargo in a state of decomposing limbo while the various factions sought to offload it for personal gain. The inevitable result was one of the greatest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, leaving more than 300,000 homeless and countless lives, properties and businesses destroyed.
The resignation of Lebanon's government, following mass street protests, will do nothing to loosen Hezbollah's death grip on Beirut. The smoking ruin that was once dubbed the Paris of the Middle East is now a tragic reminder of the Iranian regime's fundamentalist cancer that has scourged the zone. Hezbollah's continuing presence will also deter badly needed international aid to rebuild the ruined city.
The World Bank, the West and the Arab countries will be reluctant to send cash to one of the world's most corrupt and vicious terrorist outfits. Meanwhile, a large number of Iranian cargo planes have been seen flying into Beirut Airport since the blast, although there is growing speculation that these giant 747s may not have been delivering emergency food and medical supplies as claimed by Tehran. The mullahs are always very quick to propagandize any relief operations and usually have teams of photographers and TV cameras on hand to witness the event.
This time, the fleet of cargo planes arrived and departed virtually unannounced, leading to suspicions that the mullahs were cynically using the aftermath of the blast as cover for trafficking large quantities of weapons and men to Damascus. Indeed, some of the planes had previously been seen in Damascus delivering illicit munitions and their parent companies had been sanctioned by the Americans for being part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime's terrorist-listed Gestapo.
French President Emmanuel Macron,the first foreign leader to visit the devastated city, called for a new government of technocrats to be put in place, excluding Hezbollah. The Iranian mullahs will be ardently opposed to such a move, which would threaten their influence in Lebanon. Macron directly addressed Hezbollah, telling them to prioritize the needs of the Lebanese people rather than their Iranian backers. His intervention was quickly condemned by Tehran. A Foreign Ministry spokesman -- Abbas Mousavi -- stated: "The blast should not be used as an excuse for political aims. Some countries have been trying to politicize this blast for their own interests."
Two weeks after the deadly blast, Lebanon is still reeling from shock. But the mullahs in Tehran are watching developments closely. With their own economy in free fall following U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from former President Barack Obama's flawed nuclear deal and the imposition of tough new sanctions, the theocratic regime is struggling to survive.
The venal corruption and incompetence of the mullahs has seen death rates from the coronavirus soaring to over 93,000, while grinding poverty has forced more than 70% of the population to survive on income below the international poverty line. There is growing tension and the mullahs now fear a new revolution that could drive them from power. Their answer, as always, has been to increase repression within Iran and to increase aggression across the Middle East.
They hope that by continuing to support Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, they will frighten the West into a continuing policy of appeasement. The carnage wrought by the Beirut blast should be a wake-up call to all appeasers. The clerical regime in Iran is the problem, not the solution.
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.