In an interview with TRT World, Middle East expert Joe Macaron says Donald Trump's bullying tactics against Lebanon, including sanctioning its politicians, could have a negative impact on US leverage and priorities in the Muslim-majority country.
The United States has been pressing Lebanon hard, asking the country to limit Hezbollah’s political power.
During his visit to Beirut on March 22, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Lebanese politicians to take measures against the armed group, which has also made its way into the country's parliament.
“Our pressure on Iran is simple. It’s aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it’s working,” Pompeo said. “We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah’s activities.
“Lebanon faces a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation, or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future.”
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said earlier in a statement that he had told Pompeo that Hezbollah’s ‘resistance’ against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Lebanon was committed to maintain calm in the south, which borders Israel, but the country also had the natural right to defend itself from foreign threats.
Speaking to TRT World Joe Macaron, International Relations and Conflict Analyst of the Middle East, from Washington DC, discussed what the US government's strong-arm tactics against Lebanon could possibly yield.
TRT World: Hezbollah is an integral member of the Lebanese government, and one of its key political forces. Is there any appetite to comply with US wishes and move against the group?
JOE MACARON: The Trump administration is using an old trick of pressuring Lebanese leaders to take distance from Hezbollah, but US options are limited.
Sanctioning Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri or other leading politicians will backfire and have a negative impact on US leverage and priorities in Lebanon.
While the Trump administration is seeking to dry up the already scarce Hezbollah funding, it does not seem to have a policy beyond enforcing routine sanctions.
Lebanese allies of Washington know first hand from previous experiences that the US will not go all the way to defend them if they challenge an armed group like Hezbollah, most notably as they watch Trump’s decision to withdraw from next door in Syria.
The US must know how important the government is in Lebanon, and that its collapse could cause instability in the country and wider region, so why is it so insistent on ending Hezbollah's role?
JM: How far can Washington go in pressuring Hezbollah without undermining the Lebanese state has long been and remains the challenge facing US policy in Lebanon. The US pressure on Hezbollah is part of the larger diplomatic push against the Iranian regime to weaken its influence and bring it to the negotiation table. The Trump administration’s goal is to restrain Hezbollah and not end its role, but the challenge is how to reach this objective effectively
How do you see things playing out in Lebanon over the next year?
JM: While there is significant US pressure on Hezbollah, I do not see a big shift in Lebanese politics this year that might lead to the fall of the Hariri government. When cooler heads prevail in Washington, the Trump administration should recognise that it is in the interest of the US to maintain stability in Lebanon and risking this stability without offering an alternative is counterproductive.
Speaker Berri said earlier in a statement that he had told Pompeo that Hezbollah’s ‘resistance’ against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.
Israel, the closest US ally in the Middle East, regards Iran as its biggest threat and Hezbollah as the main danger on its borders.
Bassil said Lebanon was committed to calm in the south, which borders Israel, adding that the country had the natural right to defend itself and “to resist any occupation of its land ... this is a holy right”.
Hezbollah’s al Manar television reported in its afternoon news broadcast that Pompeo was in Beirut “to incite Lebanese against each other”.
Together with allies that view its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon, it won more than 70 of parliament’s 128 seats in an election last year.