Lebanon of value to US but countering Iran takes priority

Will the US punish Lebanon for its rapprochement with Russia and for failing to take a stand when it comes to Hezbollah?
by Elias Sakr English

29 March 2019 | 18:10

Source: by Annahar

  • by Elias Sakr
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 29 March 2019 | 18:10

In this July 29, 2017. photo, Iranian backed Hezbollah fighters stand near a four-wheel motorcycle positioned at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaida-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

BEIRUT: 40 years of investing in Lebanon since the withdrawal of Israel in 1982. 16 years of investing in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and eight years of significant investments in Syria since the outbreak of the peaceful-turned bloody uprising against Bashar Assad's regime in 2011.

That's how long it took Iran to secure its land corridor to the Mediterranean.

Expecting the Islamic Republic to liquidate its investments without a fight - one which the regime likely believes is tied to its survival - is foolish.

If Iran's post-Islamic Revolution track record is anything to go by, Iran would go on the offensive rather than just defend and protect its investments. 

For instance, Iran maintained funding for its proxies across the region in the wake of US sanctions that preceded the now-defunct nuclear deal and even stepped up its financing to Hezbollah and other groups during negotiations and afterward, according to numerous reports.

I'm not suggesting that Iran will continue funneling funds at the same rate mainly due to its own economic woes. In fact, Tehran is cutting back on spending, according to a New York Times article.

But Iran’s offensive takes various other forms.

In Syria, the Islamic Republic is providing aid, education, and jobs to encourage Sunnis to convert to Shiism and join the ranks of its militias, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

In Lebanon, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has pursued a greater role in government, a shift from its previous strategy of prioritizing its military endeavors. The party has secured three portfolios in the latest Cabinet including the Health Ministry, which is allocated the fourth largest budget.

Hezbollah has also secured an ally in the presidency, and enjoys along with its allies a majority in both Parliament and the cabinet chaired by a weakened Western-backed Prime Minister.

And while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Lebanon to warn against the growing influence of Hezbollah, another round of clashes broke out between Hamas, an ally of Tehran, and Israel.

Meanwhile, Pompeo was urging the Lebanese to take a stand or risk losing the country to Iran, which would entail severe consequences, the US diplomat warned. A few days following his departure, President Michel Aoun arrived in Moscow where he discussed promoting bilateral relations with Russia, in a move that is likely to further anger Washington.

So, will the US punish Lebanon for its rapprochement with Russia and for failing to take a stand when it comes to Hezbollah?

But isn't Hezbollah too powerful to isolate? And what if some choose to take a stand, wouldn't they risk another conflict breaking out in Lebanon?

Will the US nevertheless expand its sanctions and risk accelerating an imminent Lebanese economic collapse and financial meltdown?

Wouldn't a collapse, though not of the making of the US alone but also of the Lebanese as a result of corruption and failure to prioritize national interests, further erode state institutions and leave Hezbollah more empowered?

Probably yes, but it will also turn many ordinary Lebanese against Hezbollah who will likely be blamed for the country's financial woes.

How the US proceeds depends on what matters more to Washington: Lebanon's stability, or containing Iran and Hezbollah to protect Israel at all cost.

The answer lies in President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights.

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