During his joint press conference with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday, President Trump gave expression to the inherent paradox in America’s Lebanon policy. On the one hand, the president voiced appreciation and support for Lebanon and its Armed Forces (LAF) for their supposed “impressive” role in the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. On the other hand, he had strong words for Hezbollah, calling it a menace to the Lebanese state and the entire region and noting its role in fueling the catastrophe in Syria. Specifically, the president added, the group threatens to start a conflict with Israel, as it continues to increase its arsenal in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
At the same time Hariri is visiting Washington, however, the LAF is taking part in a joint military operation with Hezbollah in northeastern Lebanon, targeting a pocket of Syrian armed groups—including the group formerly known as the Nusra Front—on the Syrian border. Hezbollah, of course, controls the Lebanese government and dictates the operations of its armed forces. Indeed, it was Hezbollah that laid out the battle plans for the current operation in northeastern Lebanon, including what role the LAF would play in it. And it was Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, who announced the impending start of the joint operation with the LAF during a televised appearance a couple of weeks ago.
The Lebanese state, in other words, is worse than a joke. It’s a front. Which is what made Hariri’s comments during the presser about his government’s commitment to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, calling for an end to hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, all the more absurd. After all, it was the LAF that chaperoned Hezbollah and its media tour of the border with Israel — where Hezbollah’s “environmental NGOs” have set up observation posts under UNIFIL’s nose — and which then sent 150 of its officer cadets on a guided tour of Hezbollah’s museum of war with Israel.
One would think, then, that talking up Lebanon’s commitment to UNSCR 1701 may not be the smartest approach when discussing aid to the LAF. The reason why it continues to be done shamelessly is that for the past four years, the Obama administration redefined UNSCR 1701, which was passed in 2006, to fit its regional pro-Iran policy.
Famously, Trump’s predecessor publicly recognized the need to “respect” what he called Iran’s “equities” in Syria. That was a euphemism for Iran’s ability to maintain its bridge to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Obama further signaled his commitment to Iran’s regional interests by sharing intelligence, via the LAF and other Hezbollah-aligned Lebanese security agencies, with Hezbollah, to help it and Iran fend off blowback from its war on the Syrian people in support of Bashar Assad. However, since it is rather impossible to directly partner with a US-designated terrorist group that has American blood on its hands, the Obama administration did the next best thing: strengthen the partnership with Hezbollah’s auxiliary force, the LAF. The LAF was thus promoted to partner in the war on ISIS, despite the fact it sits on the extreme margin of that fight. Moreover, its synergy with Hezbollah and its role in securing Hezbollah’s rear and logistical lines into Syria, was conveniently swept aside altogether, even as its deployment to the eastern Lebanese border was praised.
And here’s where the sleight of hand on UNSCR 1701 happened. As far back as 2014, support to the LAF and its deployment to the eastern border were sold as enabling the Lebanese government to implement the resolution. Only here’s the thing: the resolution had intended for the Lebanese government to exercise its sovereignty on border control so that it may cut off Hezbollah’s illegal smuggling of weapons from Iran and Syria and, eventually disarm it. Such sovereignty, it was hoped, would also assert Lebanon’s independence from the Assad regime, whose troops were pushed out of the country only a year earlier. Instead, the Obama administration made the mandate of UNSCR 1701 about combating “Syria-origin Sunni extremists.” This became the standard language in the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism since 2014. And so, when the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the sale of a new arms package to the LAF in 2015, including light attack aircraft and laser-guided rockets, it explained that the sale serves US interests by enabling the Lebanese government to “enforce United Nation’s security council resolutions 1559 and 1701.”
However, insofar as the LAF was working hand in hand with Hezbollah — Iran’s “equity” — US support was for its mission against “Sunni terrorism” exclusively. The Obama administration effectively wrote out Hezbollah of UNSCR 1701.
Regrettably, the recently released State Department Country Terrorism report repeats this Obama-era language verbatim. In contrast, it’s clear President Trump was trying to reintroduce the Hezbollah and Iran emphasis. Hence, he underscored that terrorism now means all terrorism, which means Hezbollah. But attempting to fit this anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran language into the policy of support to the LAF is an attempt to square the circle. You could see it also in the president’s revival of the old line about how American assistance can help ensure the LAF “is the only defender” of Lebanon — meaningless folkloric language US policy has been repeating since 2006, and which has now become not only obsolete, but also counterproductive.
It doesn’t work, and it only reinforces a pro-Iranian configuration, partly because the previous administration reconfigured its Lebanon policy to be part of its broader regional policy of realignment with Iran, and partly because Hezbollah controls Lebanon, its strategic orientation, and its security policy and apparatuses. In fact, Hezbollah controls the government of which Hariri is prime minister. The last time he visited Washington as prime minister, in January 2011, Hezbollah and its allies—which include the current president and foreign minister—collapsed his government, and forced him out of the country. He was allowed back in only after he completely capitulated to Hezbollah’s demands.
It was hardly surprising, then, that Hariri had not once mentioned Hezbollah in his remarks. He knows who wields the real power in Beirut. And his function since Hezbollah allowed him back into Lebanon has been to lobby for backing and continued support for the current Hezbollah-dominated political status quo, and to mop up after Hezbollah. So, when asked today about the Lebanese government’s response to new Congressional sanctions targeting Hezbollah, Hariri replied that he’ll be making the rounds on the Hill “in order to reach an understanding with regard to the [sanctions] resolutions coming from Congress.” Reaching an “understanding” is a euphemism for taking it easy on Lebanon. It’s what all of the Lebanese delegations to Washington, headed by Hezbollah allies, have been focused on since news of Congress’s efforts to tighten sanctions came out: we’re in compliance with existing sanctions. Don’t add new sanctions. Do you want to break Lebanon?!?
Hariri played that refrain a little as well, as he underscored his government’s “efforts to safeguard our political and economic stability while combating terrorism” (which, of course, does not refer to Hezbollah). In other words, Lebanon is a partner in the fight against ISIS, so don’t do anything to threaten its fragile political and economic stability.
With that Hariri gave a perfect example of how Lebanon is brandished as a human shield of sorts for Hezbollah in support of the status quo favorable to the party — and to everyone who partakes in it, Hariri included. The same applies to the LAF policy. For what role will the LAF play if not that of a human shield for Hezbollah when the next conflict with Israel erupts? What will the Lebanese government do but rush to the US urging it to preserve its investment in that extraordinary partner in the war against terrorism, and to intervene to stop Israel from destroying the Lebanese state. After all, who but Hezbollah would benefit from that? Cui bono, America?
Of course, all that makes sense for Hariri and the Lebanese political class and for their political careers, and perhaps for Hariri’s ambition to get in on any prospective “reconstruction” action in Syria — that is, if Iran’s and Hezbollah’s Construction Jihad let him have a cut. But none of that makes any sense for the US. Rather, it all becomes a vehicle for the perpetuation and consolidation of Obama’s deliberately pro-Iran policy.
“America is proud to support those who have the courage to stand up to terrorism,” president Trump said on Tuesday. But if terrorism includes Hezbollah, which the president made clear it does, then by definition the Lebanese state and the LAF should be excluded from that list.
This post was published in Tablet Magazine
A common but mistaken reading of the current strategic situation in the Middle East presents the region as approaching the end of a period of instability. The “return of the Arab state” is one of the more arresting refrains that this perspective has produced.
According to this view, the wars in Syria and in Iraq are drawing to a close. The defeat of the Islamic State in these countries represents the eclipse of the political ambitions of Salafi jihadi Islamism for the foreseeable future. Assad is set to restore his repressive but stable rule in Syria. In Iraq, the firm reaction by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the Kurdish bid for independence has ended prospects of the imminent fragmentation of the country. In Lebanon, attempts by Sunni jihadis to export the Syrian war have failed, and all is quiet.
In July 2016, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (pictured in front at center)—the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church—hosts Ignatius Aphrem II (left), patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Aram I, head of Lebanon’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians.
Kingdom says Jerusalem agreed to pay compensation over deaths of three people, in order to end diplomatic standoff
Jordanian protesters wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman on July 28, 2017, calling for the shutting down the of the embassy, expelling the ambassador, and canceling the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / KHALIL MAZRAAWI)
Israel is paying $5 million in compensation to the families of two people shot dead by an Israeli embassy guard last year, as well as a Jordanian judge killed in a 2014 incident, diplomats in Jordan told the al-Rai newspaper Saturday.
Ultra-Orthodox women and children attend a ceremony to welcome new Torah scrolls in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, Oct. 1 2014.
Reuven K., who is about 30 years old, is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic man who lives in Betar Illit, one of Israel’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox localities. Reuven studies in a yeshiva, a Jewish school for Talmudic learning, but works half of each day as a wholesale merchant selling religious ritual supplies. His wife, Bracha, works as a bookkeeper in a governmental institution.
Palestinian boss Mahmoud Abbas recently declared that Israel is “a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness.” Moses, King David and thousands of years of Jewish history would disagree. Israel and the Jews are part of the story of human civilization. Over 50% of the human race has a holy book that tells of the Jewish journey to Israel. That includes Mohammed’s own copy of the Koran.
Israel isn’t a “colonial enterprise.” Palestine is.
Anyone who wants to find out where the name Israel comes from can open the Book of Genesis 32:29. The story even appears in Islamic hadiths. But where does “Palestine” really come from?
It may not be a shooting war. For the most part. (Though don’t tell that to some Republicans at a charity game practice who were targeted by a Bernie Sanders supporter.) But it’s a war all the same.
The war is still being fought with paper and protests. But it’s based on irreconcilable differences between parts of the country. Much like the ones that brought on the war between brothers.
This is a topic that I’ve written about quite often over this past year. Rush Limbaugh saw fit to read and promote some of those pieces. And now I’ll be giving a talk on the subject at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. It’ll take place from Jan 20-22. I’m scheduled to speak on the 21st, but there are plenty of other great speakers there.
The speech was loud and clear. It wasn’t just the “may your house be demolished” curse that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired at the leader of the strongest world power. It was the utterly delusional ideology, with false claims that only make the Palestinians sink deeper into a path of delusions and collapse.
The reactions were predictable: We have to understand him. He’s under a lot of pressure. He has no political horizon. The Palestinians are desperate. He didn’t really mean it.
A document drafted by members of the global Christian community convening at the 3rd International Christian Forum held in Moscow, detailed how over the past 10 years the Middle East’s Christian population has shrunk by 80 percent and warned that unless current trends are reversed Christianity “will vanish” from its ancient homelands in a few years’ time. Around the year 2000, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, whereas today there are only 100,000, roughly a 93 percent drop, the document notes. In Syria, the largest cities “have lost almost all of their Christian population.”
Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has delivered a speech triggered by his rage at the President of the United States Donald Trump, going so far as to hurl the most bitter curse in the Arabic language at the POTUS: “May your house be destroyed.”
This imprecation does not merely relate to someone’s present home, but to all the members of his family being thrown into the street to lead lives of destitution, humiliation, and shame. Only someone familiar with Middle Eastern culture understands the real significance of this curse.
The 1964 presidential election was the second in which I voted. Lyndon Johnson who had succeeded John Kennedy was running against Barry Goldwater. I didn’t like either candidate: Johnson’s personal characteristics were obnoxious, though he had achieved much, especially in the area of civil rights; Goldwater’s personal characterizes seemed fine, but I disapproved of his conservative political views.
I was shocked to read an article in Fact magazine, based on interviews with more than 1,000 psychiatrists, which concluded that Goldwater was mentally unstable and psychologically unfit to be president. It was Lyndon Johnson whose personal fitness to hold the highest office I questioned. Barry Goldwater seemed emotionally stable with excellent personal characteristics, but highly questionable politics. The article was utterly unpersuasive, and in the end, I reluctantly voted for Lyndon Johnson. Barry Goldwater went back to the Senate, where he served with great distinction and high personal morality. Lyndon Johnson got us deeply into an unwinnable war that hurt our nation. The more than 1,000 psychiatrists, it turned out, were dead wrong in their diagnosis and predictions.