On July 25, Saad Hariri met with Donald Trump at the White House, and the two gave a joint press conference. Tony Badran argues that the trip to Washington was geared toward providing political cover for Hizballah, and convincing the president that Lebanon—whose government and military are under the terrorist group’s sway—is a key partner in fighting Islamic State (IS). Badran deems the plan a success:
No sooner had Hariri wrapped up his visit than the Center for Strategic and International Studies, [a prominent think tank] in Washington, put out a report on why, because of [a] supposed looming battle with IS, the United States should continue, even increase, its support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Tying a neat ribbon on the Lebanese information campaign, the report, written by a promoter of a pro-LAF policy who works closely with the LAF command, completed Hariri’s pitch: supporting the LAF is necessary not just because the LAF will soon fight IS, but also because otherwise Hizballah would win the so-called “battle of narratives” with the Lebanese state—which it, in fact, controls. It’s a spectacular con. . . .
The Lebanese are playing up the idea of an LAF-IS showdown to get the Americans to pay [with military aid and funds from postwar reconstruction efforts]. But Lebanon is not only roping us into become complicit in its potential coordination with Bashar al-Assad. It’s a lot worse than that. As the think-tank report advocates, the Lebanese are out to leverage U.S. political and military power, including the presence of U.S. Special Operations personnel in Lebanon—even raising all kinds of propositions, including that the LAF request direct U.S. military involvement on its side. . . .
The Lebanese Big Con obviously also threatens Israel. Eastern Lebanon, [from which the LAF is supporting Hizballah operations in Syria], is the area through which Iran brings in arms to the terrorist group. As Hizballah and Iranian forces have dug in on both sides of the Lebanon-Syria border, turning a lot of the Syrian side into military positions, the area now serves as strategic depth for the group in any future war with Israel—and will most likely be another theater of war.
[In other words], the Lebanese are leveraging U.S. investment in the LAF to constrain Israel in any future conflict: if Israel returns fire, it will be destroying military infrastructure and weapons paid for by the United States. Asking for the United States to increase its own direct deployment in Lebanon turns American servicemen into human shields to deter Israel.