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.

Read more at Tablet

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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen