Stop Denying That Hizballah Controls Lebanon

Jan. 15 2018

When Saudi Arabia attempted to pressure the Lebanese prime minister Saad Harari to resign in November, the U.S. State Department, France, and the International Crisis Group for Lebanon (a body whose members include the U.S., the EU, Russia, and China) all condemned Riyadh’s “destabilizing” actions and stressed the need to protect Lebanon from the chaos that has seized much of the Middle East. These statements, writes Evelyn Gordon, simply preserve the fiction that Lebanon is not entirely under the thumb of Hizballah—itself a proxy of Iran—and in its present form is a major engine of regional instability:

[T]he West has shown no . . . concern for shielding the many Mideast countries which Lebanon’s de-facto ruling party has destabilized for years. Thousands of Hizballah troops have fought in Syria’s civil war, helping the Assad regime to slaughter hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Hizballah also has troops in Yemen to support the Houthi rebels in that country’s civil war, and it may have been involved in firing missiles from Yemen at Saudi Arabia. It has trained Shiite militias in Iraq and fought alongside them. And, of course, it has built an arsenal of some 150,000 missiles—bigger than that of most conventional armies—for eventual use against Israel. . . .

Thanks to this fiction, . . . the West has repeatedly watered down sanctions on Hizballah to avoid harming Lebanon and also has repeatedly pressured other countries not to penalize Lebanon for Hizballah’s aggression. This has allowed Hizballah to wage its foreign wars without its own Lebanese constituency paying any price. If Hizballah knew its own citizens would suffer for its actions, it might think twice about foreign adventurism.

But aside from destabilizing other Middle Eastern countries, this Western policy is liable to boomerang on Lebanon itself. Serious observers currently rate another Hizballah-Israel war as somewhere between likely and inevitable. And because Hizballah has 150,000 rockets pointed at Israel’s civilian population, Israel would have no choice but to employ maximum force to end such a war as quickly as possible. Against a threat of that magnitude, protecting its own people would trump any international pressure for “restraint.”

The only way to prevent such a war is to reverse the Western policies that have enabled Hizballah to grow to its current monstrous proportions. This means exerting massive pressure on Hizballah, even if it also hurts Lebanon. . . . [I]t’s long past time to acknowledge that Lebanon is a fully-owned Iranian subsidiary and to treat it accordingly—not only for the sake of Lebanon’s neighbors but for the sake of Lebanon itself.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, 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