Emmanuel Macron Signals an End to the Appeasement of Hizballah

Oct. 23 2020

Since the August 4 explosion in Beirut, Paris has sought to take an active role in helping its former colony’s recovery, and overseeing political reform. One major obstacle is Hizballah, which, in Matthew Levitt’s words, serves “as the militant defender of the corruption and cronyism of the current government system.” While France has historically been reluctant to confront the terrorist group, its president seems to be losing patience:

In late September 2020, Hizballah threw a wrench into . . . Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to stabilize the Lebanese political system . . . by insisting that the party or its allies remain in control of key ministries as a condition of any future government or program of political reform. . . . President Macron’s response was uncharacteristically blunt for a French politician speaking about Hizballah. In a public statement, [he] said, “Hizballah cannot operate at the same time as an army against Israel, a militia unleashed against civilians in Syria, and a respectable political party in Lebanon.”

In the past three decades, the Iran-backed guerrilla group has repeatedly attacked French soldiers in the Middle East and French civilians at home—most notably by carrying out a number of bombings in Paris during a nine-month period in the mid-1980s. As Levitt explains, France has responded with a policy of appeasement, first refusing to consider Hizballah a terrorist group, and, once it finally did, insisting on a meaningless distinction between its illegal “military wing” and its legitimate “political” one:

By the 1990s, . . . French decisionmakers . . . opted not to cross Hizballah or Iran and risk terrorist retaliation. Today, a primary concern French officials articulate about designating Hizballah in its entirety is that the group could retaliate by striking French forces serving in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). In fact, many countries have designated Hizballah in full, and in no case did the group respond with retaliatory attacks. Moreover, regardless of whether France were to designate Hizballah in full, the group already targets French soldiers attached to UNIFIL.

Indeed, while France has been effectively deterred from taking action against Hizballah, the group periodically works to undermine French interests in Lebanon.

One primary reason Hizballah engages in such brazen activity is that it believes it can get away with it. Indeed, failure to hold Hizballah accountable for its illicit conduct has not prompted any moderation in the group’s behavior, but rather has emboldened it to amplify its aggressiveness. That is true in Lebanon, and it is true in France.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Emmanuel Macron, France, Hizballah, Lebanon, Terrorism

In Prospective Negotiations with Iran, the U.S. Has the Upper Hand. President-Elect Biden Is Determined Not to Use It

In a recent interview with a writer for the New York Times, Joe Biden expressed his willingness to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran (formally known as the JCPOA) without new preconditions. Noah Rothman comments:

[S]ome observers believe Biden has provided himself with an escape hatch. Biden reiterated his insistence that there could only be a new deal so long as “Iran returns to strict compliance.” [But if] Iranian compliance were a real sticking point, Biden might have dwelled on—or even mentioned in passing—the kind of inspections regime that would verify such a thing. But he did not.

[Under the terms of the deal], Iran provided inspectors access to declared nuclear sites but not military sites where illicit activities were likeliest to occur. A subsequent agreement allowed inspectors to access suspected sites but only with at least 24-days-notice—enough to dispose of the evidence of small-scale work on components related to a bomb. But functionally, that 24-day timeline could be reset by Iran, which could stretch the delays out for weeks—ample time to deceive inspectors.

The JCPOA was never designed to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear-nation status. It was only aimed at dragging that process out while reshuffling the region’s geopolitical deck in Iran’s favor and ultimately providing a patina of legitimacy to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Any talk about exhuming and reanimating this agreement that glosses over its weak verification regime suggests that the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, will settle for any deal—even a bad one.

Such an approach seems particularly shortsighted when the Islamic Republic has been pushed onto the defensive, reeling from economic woes, the devastating effects of the coronavirus, and a series of assassinations. Rather than press America’s advantage, when “Iran is on the ropes,” writes Rothman, Biden “is committed to negotiating from a position of weakness.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy