Illustration: Protesters in Beirut, Lebanon by Nadim Kobeissi - Own work [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia
Iranian leaders have long boasted that they have taken control of four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Syria, Beirut, and Yemen — simultaneously threatening Israel's security.
Beirut recently began to rise up in mass popular protests against the "regime" and "corruption." It is no secret to anyone that the "regime" in Lebanon is now fully controlled by Iranian proxy Hezbollah. For the first time in the history of Lebanon, the state is experiencing a revolution from its far north to its far south, in all regions and within all sects — even within the Shi’ite community and the Hezbollah public.
In Iraq, a protest movement started in October, leading to the deaths of more than 319 people, most of them demonstrators, and the injuring of more than 15,000 according to an official toll. It began with calls for an end to corruption and unemployment, but it developed into a demand for the resignation of the government and a reform of the political system.
In Iran, anti-regime protests started in small towns before continuing on to major cities nationwide, despite severe repression and the growing number of casualties.
It was remarkable that nine offices of Iranian officials, including representatives of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, were burned down in the provinces. These offices were seen by the protesters as symbols of the repressive regime and the headquarters of clerics overseeing the implementation of the regime's policies while looting the people's money freely.
The anger broke out in Iran after Tehran announced fuel rationing and a gasoline price hike of 50%. But protesters soon were chanting “Death to Rouhani” and “Death to Khamenei,” denouncing Iran’s president and supreme leader; they also chanted “Death to the dictator.”
Amnesty International said in late November that Iranian security forces had killed 106 protesters in just four days, most of them from Ahvaz and Kurdish provinces. Iranian activists said at the time that the death toll had risen to more than 200.
Iran has been monitoring the demonstrations in all these countries closely since their beginning. The state considers them a conspiracy, with Iranian officials accusing Iran's enemies of being behind the unrest. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote on his official Twitter account: "#Iran and #Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together… Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective."
Later Khmanenei added: ''I recommend those who care in Iraq and Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the U.S., the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries.''
Iran's leaders have claimed that there is an "enemy conspiracy," and that the protests were part of a "plot" by Tehran's foreign foes — Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.
"Our people have been victorious," President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on November 20, claiming that the "armed anarchists" who took to the streets across Iran were few in number.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah warned of "civil war" as a possible consequence of the demonstrations spreading throughout the country, expressing his organization’s rejection of the anti-corruption protests.
Nasrallah added in a televised speech: "We do not accept the fall of the government, we do not accept the call for the resignation of the government, nor do we accept the holding of early parliamentary elections." He also claimed the West and Saudi Arabia were behind the protests.
Fearing the reduction of its influence in Iraq, Iran is intervening to mobilize a brutal response, and according to Iraqi officials, Iran has instructed its militias to assign snipers to shoot at street demonstrators.
Iranian officials and agencies have specifically accused the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel of mobilizing the demonstrations in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Meanwhile government officials in Iraq say Iran pressured the weak Iraqi prime minister not to step down, persuading him that the protests were a foreign conspiracy primarily aimed at harming the Iraq-Iran relationship until there were so many deaths that he considered stepping down. Eventually the pressure from the protests did in fact reach the point that he tendered his resignation.
Iran’s steps underscore the existence of an Iranian plan to stop the popular uprising in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon by insinuating the involvement of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states such as the U.A.E., in addition to non-Arab countries like the U.S., U.K., and Israel in the protest movement. In this way, Iran is seeking to internationalize the unrest.
Regarding the protests in Iraq, Iranian affiliated news agencies have claimed Saudi Arabia is arranging meetings with symbols of the Iraqi opposition abroad. Iran’s Council of Experts stated that the protesters in Iraq were trained "in camps especially in America and Saudi Arabia." One of the council’s members, Abbas Kaabi, said: “The enemies of the Iraqi and Iranian people — Britain, America, and the Saudis — have been planning for more than a year to provoke unrest and temptation to change the loyalty of the resistance in Iraq for the benefit of America and Saudi Arabia.”
In the same context of Iran accusing the Saudis of directing the Iraqi protest movement, a rumor emerged about a meeting in Amman between the Saudi ambassador in Jordan and Raghad Saddam Hussein, the daughter of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The rumor was picked up by a group of news sites affiliated with the Iranian agenda.
Iranian propaganda has also sought to spread rumors about the involvement of some big names and symbols of Iraq, including the head of the movement against Iranian expansion Abdul Razzaq Shammari. The Iranian intelligence has resorted to promoting its claims through its media trumpets, pointing out that there are official Saudi tendencies seeking to establish a special conference to discuss the future of governance in Iraq, and that this conference will involve several important Iraqi figures.
According to a source in the U.A.E., Shammari has stressed that since the beginning of the protests in October, Tehran has reported schemes and conspiracies in order to abort the popular uprisings. He pointed out that he communicated with figures close to Raghad Saddam and she denied meeting with the Saudi ambassador to Jordan.
After being briefed on the Iranian plot, Shammari also contacted some of the figures whom Tehran has claimed were contacted by Saudi Arabia to form a political project uniting the Sunnis in Iraq by holding a conference bringing together prominent Iraqi figures.
Ironically, among the names of those allegedly invited to the conference are a number of deceased figures; the most prominent of them is the late Saif al-Mashhadani, who died four years ago.
In addition, the Iranian assault on the popular movement has sought to focus on mentioning ex-dictator Hussein’s Baathist party in Iraq and connecting them to the demonstrations. This is in order to intimidate Iraqi Shi’ite demonstrators and to portray the uprisings as belonging to the “banned” Baath party, which is unanimously opposed in Iraq.
Shammari added: “The Iranian regime claimed through its accounts and media sites and social media accounts that Saudi Arabia is seeking to prepare for a conference aimed at organizing a special project for the Sunnis in Iraq to kidnap the demand of the street. Also part of Iran’s plot is to intimidate protestors by warning of infiltration by organizations such as ISIS; especially after it emerged that many of its leaders are Baathists.”
Iran has not only attempted to implicate Saudi Arabia in the protest movement of the Iraqi street; it has also tried to implicate the Baathists, and this is intentional because most of the Iraqi people are concerned about the Baathists.
Tehran's efforts to stop the current uprisings in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran are similar to what it did when it stopped the popular movement in Iraq in 2013, under the pretext of standing up to ISIS. Now the pretext being used is to stand up to Western proxies and Saudi Arabia.
Rami Dabbas is a Jordanian freelance writer and analyst based in Amman, who stands for peace in the Middle East and is a pro-Israel advocate. Click here to read more of this author’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.