US Sanctions Push Lebanon To The Brink

lebanon gun battle

Above: Part of the gun battle in the streets of Beirut on October 14, where Hezbollah supporters defended themselves from suspected Lebanese Forces (LF) sniper fire. Image from

24-10-2021: In August, the United Nations (UN) warned that reliable fuel and electricity sources needed to be restored in Lebanon to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. Its largest hospitals have reduced their operations due to the shortages, and public water supply and water treatment facilities that rely on fuel are also reducing capacity.[1] A lack of access to clean water obviously places the environment and public health in peril. For much of this year, Lebanon endured rolling 22-hour blackouts, with people struggling to get by with only 2 hours of electricity per day. While some in Lebanon have had private generators to make up for electricity that could not be supplied by the state since the civil war ended in 1990, many now are reduced to turning these generators off for fear of burning them out.[2] In addition, there is such a shortfall of essential medicines, that Lebanese ex-patriots are posting photos on social media of the suitcases full of medications they are bringing into Lebanon to assist. The goods include first aid supplies, diabetes medication and even sanitary pads.[3]

Crippling sanctions

The corporate media creates a narrative of an “economic crisis” in Lebanon, implying a particularly bad cycle of the boom-bust operation of a market economy. In reality, Lebanon is the victim of targeted economic warfare from the US state department. Washington is punishing all of Lebanon for the heroic actions of Hezbollah, which risked all to join Russia and Iran to defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda in neighbouring Syria.[4] ISIS was a proxy force organised, funded and equipped primarily by the Pentagon,[5] with the goal of collapsing the Syrian state. Needless to say, this would have created a hellscape across the Middle East, and surrounding states such as Lebanon would have been engulfed. Hezbollah, a nationalist-Islamist Shia resistance movement, understood this. The Islamic Republic of Iran also recognised that the US war on Syria was but a stepping stone to a war on itself. In retaliation for the defeat of ISIS, Washington now wages economic warfare against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

US sanctions on Hezbollah had been in place for years prior to the current crisis. In 2007, then President Bush enacted Executive Order 13441, which impose fines of 1 million dollars or 20 years imprisonment on parties who “support the reassertion of Syrian control” or “infringe or undermine Lebanese sovereignty”.[6] It is a classic case of imperialist projection – it is not Lebanon’s ally of Syria is who is “undermining Lebanese sovereignty”, but the US state itself. More recently, the US state department explicitly named Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp – Quds Force, as “funding terrorism” to “perpetuate instability” in Lebanon, and applied additional sanctions.[7] In September, the US Biden Administration enlisted the Qatari monarchy to impose sanctions against alleged Hezbollah financial contributors based in the Gulf Region. These included citizens of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and a Palestinian national.[8] However, as the current crisis in Lebanon demonstrates, sanctions such as these hit the Lebanese people as a whole the hardest. Arguably, this is by design, in order to foment an uprising directed against Hezbollah, not the Lebanese government.

Ongoing colour revolution

Washington’s strategy to sideline Hezbollah is two-fold. It is a combination of devastating sanctions on all of Lebanon, combined with the fostering and fomenting of a pro-Western colour revolution. The West will exploit any pretext to bring this about – even the fake Covid “pandemic”.[9] Like all US government backed colour revolutions (which are in practice the direct opposite of anything politically progressive), they posture as protests over some very real problems, such as corruption or a faltering economy. Instances of corruption amongst Lebanese government personnel cannot be denied, but the US and Israeli states are using this as an excuse[10] to punish the Lebanese for offering any support for Hezbollah. During the 2019 protests in Lebanon, the US Congress funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was heavily involved in a hijacking, working with domestic pro-US forces which looked to the anti-China Hong Kong Blackshirts and anti-Russia Neo-Nazi Ukrainian coup plotters for inspiration![11] The political dividing lines in Lebanon largely appear to be between those who give de facto backing to Hezbollah and nationalist forces, and those who work covertly or overtly with the US and Western backed pseudo-NGO complex.

Despite significant numbers prepared to actuate pro-US political destabilisation, Hezbollah’s popularity within Lebanon makes the reactionary overthrow of the state unlikely. Hezbollah’s political arm has 12 elected politicians as part of the Lebanese government coalition. Lebanese support, whether expressed openly or not, for Hezbollah is understandable given its history of defending the country. In recent months, the Iranian government has worked with Hezbollah to defy US sanctions with the transport of fuel. Hezbollah General Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah stated that this process will continue as long as it is needed, and its purpose is to help all Lebanese, not just Hezbollah supporters or the Shia.[12] Later, Nasrallah stated that the aim of the fuel transports is “not for trade or profit, but to alleviate the suffering of the people”.[13]

This year, Hezbollah’s Qard Al-Hassan NGO began installing ATMs (Automatic Teller Machine) around some suburbs of the capital Beirut. This obviously helps Lebanese people access hard currency. Qard Al-Hassan is not a bank or financial institution, so it is not subject to Lebanese monetary and credit law. According to its website, the NGO has more than 400 000 contributors and had given more than three billion dollars’ worth of loans before the end of 2019.[14] Compare these acts of Hezbollah to the US government applying sanctions on Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the largest Christian political bloc in Lebanon.[15] Bassil, who is the son-in-law of previous President Michel Aoun, was targeted by the 2019 colour revolution protestors. The reason? The FPM has a political alliance with Hezbollah, and Gebran Bassil has defended Hezbollah as being vital to the defence of Lebanon. So, while the US state department applies official sanctions for merely co-operating with Hezbollah, pro-US colour revolution operatives on the ground aim at the same target through street protests. When protests appear to be co-ordinated, or at least have similar aims, with the US state department, it is safe to say they are not going to benefit the local population.

For anti-imperialist defence

On October 14, supporters of Hezbollah and Shiite party Amal held a demonstration in Tayouneh in Beirut calling for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the enquiry into the port explosion that killed over 200 people on August 4 last year. Snipers from nearby rooftops opened fire and killed at least 6 people. Hezbollah fighters gained arms and began firing back, leading to gun battles in the street.[16] Hezbollah blamed the Lebanese Forces (LF) for the attack. LF are a right-wing Christian militant front, which carried out extensive atrocities during the Lebanese civil war. Its leader Samir Geagea is accused of war crimes and collaborating with the Israeli state against Lebanon.[17] Such forces are ones which can unfortunately be relied on by Washington to drive against Hezbollah and the Shia resistance bloc throughout the Middle East.

Four days later, Hassan Nasrallah for the first time revealed the fighting strength of Hezbollah. What had previously remained a closely guarded secret, Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah has 100 000 fighters under arms.[18] The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the military of the Lebanese government, reportedly has 80 000 soldiers. Nasrallah’s statement is credible, as it has long been suspected that Hezbollah has stronger forces than the state itself. Arguably, Lebanon was deliberately created as an enfeebled state, so it could remain under the domination of the colonial powers. France was the colonial power in Lebanon, but of course today the US is the predominant imperialist predator.

To avoid a full-scale US backed regime change proxy war on Lebanon, Hezbollah could plausibly be justified in taking over the government, and establishing a state comprised of all anti-imperialist forces. However, as a national-Islamic front, it has no such aims. Rather, as it confirms, it seeks to defend “all the Lebanese people.” This is unattainable, as Lebanon and the Middle East is primarily divided into working and owning classes, over and above the seemingly intractable religious divides between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Real anti-imperialism, therefore, must be cohered around a pro-working-class axis, throughout the entire region.

In its battle with US-led imperialism, workers internationally should stand for military support to the Shia axis of resistance, i.e., the forces from Syria, Iran, Palestine and Hezbollah, who bravely defend the region with their lives. Leftists need to stand unequivocally with the Shia resistance when in military conflict against Washington, London, Paris and its proxy forces including the Israeli state, ISIS and Al Qaeda. At the same time, workers cannot politically endorse nationalist or Islamist political forces, and need to strive towards the building of genuine Marxist vanguard parties throughout the Middle East and internationally. Only a working-class political program injected with the theory of Permanent Revolution offers the potential of a future free from religious, sectarian and national wars.



[1] (24-10-2021)

[2] (24-10-2021)

[3] (24-10-2021)

[4] (24-10-2021)

[5] (24-10-2021)

[6] (24-10-2021)

[7] (24-10-2021)

[8] (24-10-2021)

[9] (24-10-2021)

[10] (24-10-2021)

[11] (24-10-2021)

[12] (24-10-2021)

[13] (24-10-2021)

[14] (24-10-2021)

[15] (24-10-2021)

[16] (24-10-2021)

[17] (24-10-2021)

[18] (24-10-2021)

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