News Digest — 5/17/22

Lebanon Elections: If Hezbollah Feels It Failed, Will It React? – Analysis – Seth J. Frantzman

Reports that Hezbollah and its allies have not performed as well as expected in the Lebanese elections may have ramifications.  The pro-Iranian group may suffer a setback, the first in a decade or more.

Hezbollah has tried to consolidate power over all institutions in Lebanon, either directly using the weapons it has, or through partnerships with Druze and Christian politicians.  Now, the terrorist group may be losing steam.

Pro-Iranian groups in the region are suffering setbacks because people are tired of the poverty, war and chaos they bring.  Iran’s policy is to go into countries, find local groups that can be provided weapons and then use them to hijack the country like an internal mafia army.  Then, once it has its allies in power, or holding a part of the government, it uses them to siphon off resources from the country, bankrupt it, hollow it out and turn it into a shell.

Once the ruined country is a shell, the Iranians blame Israel and the US and then use this as an excuse to find “resistance” forces in the country, pouring in arms.  A bankrupt country is then taken over by armed militias that put up checkpoints around their areas.

Then they stockpile weapons, fund extremism and begin to sell and traffic drugs from the shell of the country, which then falls into poverty and sectarian chaos.  Iran wins when countries fall apart.

Iran’s goal was to destroy Lebanon and turn a peaceful, successful state into an Iranian base.  It did the same thing in Iraq with the Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of militias.  It then got the militias into parliament via the Fatah Alliance and groups such as the Badr Organization.  In Yemen it uses the Houthis.

Lebanon has been bankrupted, and Hezbollah even helped cause the massive explosion in Beirut’s port via its corruption of institutions.  It illegally occupied southern Lebanon and stockpiles missiles and drones.  But when it comes to elections, it appears that some people are not entirely happy with what Hezbolleh did to Lebanon in the 22 years since Israel withdrew from its southern region in 2000.

In the old days, the ruination of Lebanon was said to be acceptable because Hezbollah was “resisting” Israel.  According to that logic, even if the country was an armed terrorist base, this was okay because the excuse was to fight Israel.

The Gaza Strip was also destroyed by Iranian-backed Hamas under the same excuse.  It had to “resist,” so Gaza had to be held hostage.  Yemen must “resist,’ so it is hollowed out.  Iraq is “resisting,” so it is poor and ruined.

Countries that prefer peace and stability can have education, the arts and profit.  Iran’s friends have only poverty.  But when there are elections – when Tehran can’t control everything – the people sometimes resist Iran’s control.

In Lebanon, it seems Iran knows that its friends did not perform well.  Iranian pro-government news agencies such as Tasnim and Fars have not lauded Hezbollah’s success.  Iran sees failure, but the question is whether Hezbollah will accept its failure at the ballot box or provoke a new conflict to distract.

In the past, the terrorist group did everything possible to hijack the presidency of Lebanon and even used weapons to show its power in Beirut.  Hezbollah refuses to concede that anyone else might control Lebanon.

The election returns will be monitored carefully to see how the sectarian reserved seats are divided.  It appears that Christian parties that opposed Hezbollah may have defeated those that back it. Similarly, the Druze and Sunni vote will be closely watched.

“An opposition candidate also made a breakthrough in an area of southern Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah,” France24 reported.

“Elias Jradi, an eye doctor, won an Orthodox Christian seat previously held by Assad Hardan of the Syrian Socialist National Party, a close Hezbollah ally and MP since 1992, two Hezbollah officials said.  ‘It’s a new beginning for the south and for Lebanon as a whole,’ Jradi told Reuters,” the report said.

In the past, Hezbollah has assassinated critics such as Lokman Slim.  Is it possible that it may begin a new wave of assassinations if it fears critics are rising in Lebanon?  Or could Hezbollah provoke a crisis in the Golan Heights where it has agents in Syria? 

Much remains to be cleared up about how Hezbollah will react.  Its leadership is aging, and it has fewer friends in the region.  The only thing it still has is its illegal masses of weapons.



‘Death Awaits You In Gaza’ Hamas Warns Israel

The Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing on Monday, (16th) released a video showing its fighters preparing for a war against Israel in underground tunnels.

According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute, the video, which was posted on Twitter, ends with a caption in Hebrew and Arabic that reads, “Your destiny is death if you enter Gaza.”

The video was posted on a Twitter account identified as “@abyd_22.” which is clearly used to disseminate Hamas propaganda.

On Saturday (14th), Hamas called on Palestinians to go to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem the next day, May 15th, and protest.  Sunday (15th) marked “Nakba Day,” which the Palestinians mark as the “catastrophe” of Israel’s inception in 1948.

The terrorist group also warned Jews about visiting the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site for Jews and the third-holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The majority of Hamas’ infamous grid of terror tunnels was destroyed during Operation Guardian of the Walls last year.  It is unclear whether the video was filmed in existing tunnels or new ones.

Currently led by Mohammed Deif and his deputy Marwan Issa, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades is considered the largest and best-equipped terrorist group in Gaza.



4,600 Gazans Enter Israel, Highest Total At Erez Crossing In 15 Years

Around 4,600 Gazans entered Israel on Sunday (15th) at the reopened Erez Crossing, which is the highest single-day number at the border crossing in 15 years, Army Radio reported.

Israel had sealed the border, as well as the crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria, on May 3, preventing the flow of some 12,000 Palestinian Gazan workers into Israel.  The closures were in response to Hamas’ role in stoking violence in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and elsewhere.

Israel reopened the crossings to Judea and Samaria on May 9.

Palestinian workers from Gaza and those with work permits were allowed into Israel after a security assessment by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) on Saturday evening (14th).

“The continuation of the civil policy will be possible in accordance with situational assessments and the preservation of security stability,” COGAT said in a statement.

The decision to open the crossing was opposed by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who said the move was unjustified  at this time.

In a tweet, Sa’ar cited the ongoing incitement by Hamas and its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and said “the terrorist group’s leaders should be taken out of their comfort zone.”

The crossing was scheduled to reopen on May 6 but was kept shut after a deadly terror attack in Elad on Independence Day.

Israel is currently facing a terror wave that has seen 19 people killed, including three during the axe and knife rampage by two Palestinians in Elad.



European Union Cuts Its UNRWA Budget By 40 Percent

The European Union’s 2022-2024 UNRWA aid budget will be 40 percent lower than during the previous three-year period, the EU announced last week.

The new budget will provide $82 million annually, compared to the previous average annual figure of $135 million, according to the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that monitors educational materials around the world for extremist content.

An additional $15 million was granted through the EU’s Food and Resilience Facility for 2022 to help ensure food security following the impact of the Ukraine crisis, according to the report.

In April of last year, the EU Parliament condemned UNRWA for teaching and producing UN hate-material uncovered by IMPACT-se, and conditioned EU funds on changes to the curriculum.

The EU commissioner, who announced the reduced funding package, said last year, after the parliament’s condemnation, that the European Union would fight antisemitism and should consider conditioning aid to UNRWA on full adherence to UNESCO standards of peace and tolerance in textbooks.

He reiterated the sentiment in November 2021, when he stated during an international ministerial UNRWA donor conference that “full compliance with UNESCO standards in education material” is non-negotiable,” and that the European Union would continue to work with UNRWA towards “increased accountability, transparency and consistency with UN principles.”

The Palestinians are up in arms over a recent announcement by UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini.  He said in April that some of the EU aid may be delegated to other UN agencies due to budgetary constraints.  Palestinian leaders claim the potential reforms are part of a plot to dissolve the UNRWA agency.



Abolish “Nakba Day” – Bassem Eid

“Nakba Day” which occurs every year on May 15, was established in 1998 by former Palestinian Authority leader – and international terrorist mastermind Yasser Arafat – to turn Israel’s Independence Day into a festival of grievance.  The very fact of Israel’s existence was branded a “catastrophe” – nakba in Arabic – but not the displacement that affected both sides in the subsequent war, which included the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. 

And during and after Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Arab lands.  In all, more than 850,000 Jews were forced to flee Arab countries for Israel, followed by more than 70,000 Jews from Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Although my family is Muslim, I was born in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control.  In 1966, when I was 8 years old, the Jordanian government moved my family north of Jerusalem to the Shuafat Refugee camp.  It was the government of Jordan, not the government of Israel that made me a refugee.

Palestinians should celebrate our rich heritage and, like our Jewish cousins, grieve our losses.  But now is the time for negotiated reconciliation, not the perpetuation of generation-old victimhood.  “Nakba day” is a part of the victimhood problem, not part of the forward-looking solution.  Israel has three times offered Palestinians peace, dignity and independence.  The fetishization of Israel’s very existence as a catastrophe is a distortion that wounds our children and leads them to war and suicide bombing.

The Palestinian leadership should reverse course on the incitement against Israel and Jews.  Instead, Palestinian schoolchildren and citizens should learn the history, the joys and the traumas of our neighbors, the Israelis, with whom we have a great deal in common.

The writer is a Jerusalem-based Palestinian political analyst and human rights pioneer