(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday accused the United States, Israel and others of fomenting the protests that have rocked Lebanon and Iraq – two of the countries in the region where proxies of the Iranian regime hold powerful positions.
The anti-government protests in both Arab countries are prompted by economic and related grievances, although protestors have also raised concerns about Iran’s influence.
But supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei charged that the hand of the U.S., “Zionists,” and “reactionary regimes in the region” – usually Iran’s terminology for the Saudis and Emiratis – were behind the unrest.
“The culprit behind these dangerous hatred and animosities is known, and the U.S. and Western intelligence services are behind them, supported by the money of certain reactionary regimes in the region,” he said during a military graduation ceremony in Tehran.
Khamenei said protesting Iraqis and Lebanese had justified economic demands, but must “understand that the enemy is after distorting the legal structures and creating a vacuum in these countries, and the only way for people to attain their righteous demands is pursuing them within the framework of legal structures.”
In Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Tuesday, while in Iraq – where the protests and state reactions have been far more violent, with more than 250 people killed this month –Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is facing growing calls to do the same.
Along with Syria and Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon are the countries where the regional influence of the regime in Tehran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been most evident in recent years.
Iran’s Lebanese proxy, the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah, wields more armed power than does the country’s national army, and has long had members serving in the national cabinet.
Before the outbreak of protests this month, a number of politicians and commentators in Lebanon had blamed Hezbollah – and by extension, Iran – for some of the country’s economic woes.
In Iraq, IRGC-backed Shi’ite militias gained increased influence during the armed campaign against ISIS. Since elections in May 2018 a political alliance comprising the most powerful of those militias is the second-largest bloc in the national parliament.
Protestors in Iraq have been calling for an end to Iranian influence, and offices of some of the IRGC-backed militias have been targeted.
The protests in Iraq and Lebanon come at a time when the Iranian regime is facing unprecedented economic pressure as a result of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement.
In his speech to the military cadets, aired on state television, Khamenei warned that “the biggest damage that enemies can inflict on a country is to deprive them of security, as they have started to do so today in some countries in the region.”
“The enemies engaged in the same plots against Iran,” he said, “but fortunately people acted in a timely manner, and the sedition was nullified.”
In Iran, protests over rising prices and economic concerns broke out in late 2017, spreading to hundreds of cities and towns, and prompting a violent crackdown by the regime. Sporadic protests and strikes continued through 2018 and this year.