The Syrian uprising has severely undermined the triad of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, threatening the movement of weapons between Iran and its Lebanese protégé. While Iran originally praised the Arab uprisings as an Islamic awakening against the Western-backed dictators, the Syrian crisis is threatening this strategic alliance and changing the power dynamics in the region.
Although it supported revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya, Hezbollah toed the Iranian line on Syria, claiming that the Syrian uprising is a foreign conspiracy targeting the resistance against Israel. Its position tarnished its credibility among Syrian protestors and sympathizers in Lebanon and the region. The anti-Assad Free Syrian Army now claims that it will settle its score with Hezbollah after the fall of the Syrian regime.
While Hezbollah denied reports that it was providing military support for the Syrian regime, the involvement of the Iranian regime has been much more conspicuous. This week, five Iranian nationals were abducted by the Free Syrian Army, who claimed the detainees were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian Regime came under fire by the Syrian opposition but opted to dismiss the incident and referred to the guards as "engineers", while another report claimed they were "pilgrims" who were found in Damascus.
Iran's meddling in Syrian affairs has caused a backlash, but its presence in Lebanon is a different story. This week, commander of the elite Al-Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, said that Iran controls South Lebanon and is capable of influencing the rise of Islamic governments in the region. Lebanon is "in one way or another subject to the control of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its ideas," he said.
Iranian officials have also offered to provide assistance to Lebanon's energy sector. As Lebanon's electricity crisis continues, Iranian officials stepped in, renewing a 2010 offer to provide electricity at a significantly reduced price. Iran allegedly offered several options, including exporting energy to Lebanon via Syria, and building additional power plants in Lebanon.
Iran has also made similar offers to provide technical assistance on the newfound oil and gas reserves in Lebanon's southern maritime borders. Despite Western sanctions targeting Iran's oil industry, Lebanese energy minister Gebran Bassil, whose political party has been in alliance with Hezbollah since 2005, is reportedly considering potential cooperation with Iran on offshore drilling. Lebanon has not accepted the offers yet, but it is not altogether unlikely given the influence Hezbollah has on the current cabinet.
Iran and Hezbollah face some tough decisions as they seek to carve out a new role in post-Assad Syria. Iran is facing tougher Western sanctions and a potential international showdown over its nuclear activities, and Hezbollah's regional clout has been undermined. A change in Syria risks putting an end to the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, forcing it to turn inward and focus on domestic politics, many observers argue. Hezbollah may opt to play a bigger role domestically, but the question of its arms, its relations with the Lebanese state and its alliance with Iran, have yet to be answered.