Phillip Smyth and David DesRoches on Iran, Hezbollah and Lebanon as a Proxy State

Published December 18th, 2019 - 11:29 GMT
David DesRoches (L) and Philip Smyth (R) /Al Bawaba
David DesRoches (L) and Philip Smyth (R) /Al Bawaba

To close in the year, DC Insider spoke with 2018-2019 Soref Fellow Phillip Smyth at The Washington Institute and David DesRoches, an associate professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies on Iran and Lebanon. Both speakers give no hint of signs of a thaw between Tehran and Washington.

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Would you describe the sanctions on Iran as “finely targeted”? 

“Some sanctions are targeted at hitting specific elements of the Islamic Republic's leadership and economic structures that allow Tehran to continue a number of malign activities. Although, sometimes there are some sanctions that may appear repetitive, with a final effect that can be harder to understand.”

Is it possible to impose sanctions on a country/government without hurting the people?

“It depends on what types of sanctions have been issued and what the targeted government does about it. It is easy to blame sanctions for having negative effects when little is said about what some governments have done to receive those sanctions.”

DesRoche makes a similar point, by drawing comparison with Lebanon.

“To a certain extent, Iranian sympathizers have managed to become like parasites to their host- Iran. Would it be possible to kill the parasite without killing the host? That is the operational question... In the past, successive American governments have said that either the damage to Lebanon will be so great or that the Lebanese forces will be able to stand up to Hezbollah, a very fictitious way of thinking.”
 

Would you say that the Iranian people successfully alerted the world to their situation during the recent protests?

“It depends on what one marks as "success." If it's the removal of the Islamic Republic, there's a lot of work to be done. However, if the protesters were trying to send certain key messages to Tehran, leading with the demonstration that the population of Iran is fed up with the system that runs the country, they certainly made that clear. Regardless, success needs some metrics before it can be established.”

If the protesters were trying to send certain key messages to Tehran, leading with the demonstration that the population of Iran is fed up with the system that runs the country, they certainly made that clear - Smyth

For DesRoches, the financial instruments the U.S. is able to bring to bear should actually be singled out for praise.

“I would say that the U.S. has always had the legal authority to sanction people for gross human rights violations yet we’ve never had the capability to do it. This could be the time. Increasingly, as a result of hard work through the financial task force, Iran has been or will be excluded from the world financial system.”

Increasingly, as a result of hard work through the financial task force, Iran has been or will be excluded from the world financial system.

How “sovereign” is Lebanon?

“Not very. When there are regional proxies on all sides who answer to their backers first and Lebanese second, this tends to send signals that Lebanon is merely a chessboard for larger actors to move their pawns, rooks, and bishops around.

Hezbollah, believes that adhering to edicts coming out of Tehran takes precedence over other domestic matters

The most powerful of these proxies, Hezbollah, believes that adhering to edicts coming out of Tehran takes precedence over other domestic matters, extending to starting wars with Lebanon's neighbors.  It certainly doesn't show Beirut has anything beyond a level of nominative independence. Right now, many Lebanese are rising against the system that has allowed for this type of setup to exist for so long.”

What would Iran have to do to have all the sanctions lifted?

“End its aggressive and malign regional activities as a start. This includes its nuclear portfolio, but more importantly extends into how it has been a prime supporter for a number of militias, terror groups, and other organizations. Though, it's important to stress that this would not be the limit of the required changes.”
 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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