The 20-year anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon was commemorated in Beirut modestly this year, almost obscurely. Although Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered a victory speech from the underground bunker he hides in, he was also forced to admit that Hezbollah has no reason to celebrate today.
The flames have been nipping at Nasrallah’s robe for quite some time, but in recent weeks he and his men have openly exhibited signs of distress. For the first time, during the ongoing protests flooding the streets of Beirut, people have called for disarming Hezbollah and rehabilitating the sovereignty of the Lebanese state.
In Syria, too, where President Bashar Assad recently celebrated the 20-year anniversary of his rule, the atmosphere is as gloomy as ever. Although Assad defeated his people who rose against him—with chemical weapons, aerial bombardments and missiles—he is losing the battle for Syria’s rehabilitation.
In recent weeks, the Syrian lira has lost nearly 90 percent of its value, plummeting from nearly 500 liras to the U.S. dollar to nearly 3,500 liras to the dollar. In one fell swoop, economic life in the country has ground to a halt, commerce has frozen, salaries have dropped, savings have been wiped out, and everyday Syrians can no longer afford to buy basic staples to sustain their families.
In Lebanon, too, the Lebanese pound has depreciated in a manner of weeks from 1,500 pounds to the dollar to nearly 5,000 pounds to the dollar, also amid an economic crash that has been devastating for regular Lebanese citizens.
All this is happening while the United States has instituted the so-called Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (named after the pseudonym of a Syrian policeman who turned over photographs of thousands of victims of torture by the Assad government). The law targets any individual or entity doing business with the Syrian government or supporting its military efforts, including reconstruction, fuel delivery and other sectors. Businessmen close to the Syrian government were added to the sanctions list under the new measures. It could paralyze the Syrian economy and, consequently, the intertwined Lebanese economy.
The problem is that Assad and Nasrallah don’t have anywhere to turn for help. The world is no longer eager to aid Lebanon and help the parasitic Hezbollah continue to flourish inside the Lebanese body. Russia and Iran can send troops and warplanes to Syria to lay waste to the country, but they are also dealing with numerous economic problems, or worse in the case of Iran, which is on the verge of economic collapse.
The harsh economic crisis is spurring the masses into the streets of Beirut. Even in Syria, the crisis is hitting the regime’s soft underbelly. For example, in the country’s mountainous Jabal Al Druze region, protests have erupted against Assad. The crisis is even affecting the Assad family itself, with Bashar openly feuding with his cousin, Rami Makhlouf, the wealthiest person in the country, whose assets Bashar has seized.
For many years, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have excelled at maintaining and unifying their axis of evil, or as they refer to it, the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel. In retrospect, however, it appears this is an axis of bankrupt entities foisting calamity, poverty and decay upon their own peoples. While we mustn’t underestimate the threats that Assad and Nasrallah pose to Israel, it is evident that their alliance brings no good tidings or hope to their peoples and will inevitably wreak havoc on them.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.