The Lebanese Prime Minister Came to the U.S. to Do PR for Hizballah

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.

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More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy


The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy