US Goes on the Offense in Lebanon

By Ali Younes

When Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with president Obama on Wednesday, the meeting was read by the opposition in Beirut as part of an American plan to press for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to issue its finding and indict individuals connected to Hezbollah. This meeting was preceded by another one with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who also pressed for the STL to go ahead and voiced its support for the Hariri’s government. Such high profile statements and meetings with top US leaders indicate that the US government has put a veto on the Saudi efforts to resolve the internal Lebanese crises. This also explains why Saad Hariri was granted such high profile meetings with Obama and Clinton which in normal circumstances would not have taken place.

The Saudi-Syrian initiative was supposed to spare Hezbollah the imminent indictment by the STL in exchange of major concessions by Hezbollah. But the manner through which the Saudis denied the existence of this “initiative” to resolve the crises is a bad omen for Hezbollah and Lebanon as a whole. What this mean is that the United States exercised a lot of pressure on its Arab allies to end their efforts in Lebanon.

Obama’s recent appointment of American ambassador to Damascus bypassing the required confirmation hearings by congress is an indication that the US fed Syria a token or a reward for its expected cooperation in Lebanon, and Iran. The US administration, in exchange, hopes that Syria will bite the bait it dangled before it so it can be neutralized in the likely event a mini civil war in Lebanon breaks out, or an Israeli attack on Hezbollah takes place.

The US high stakes strategy in Lebanon not only aims to deal with Hezbollah growing military strength, but also to deliver a blow to Iran’s influence in the region. Clipping Hezbollah in Lebanon will limit Teheran’s influence in the region which will make it easier for the US and its European allies to press for concessions regarding its nuclear program.

For Hezbollah, the failure of the Saudi-Syrian efforts to reach a settlement that will for all intents and purposes spare it from an outright indictment by the STL makes the political environment in Lebanon a regional game of a high stakes poker.

Hezbollah leadership, therefore, will consider this failure as part of a bigger plan by Saudi Arabia, Israel, US, France and their local Lebanese allies to undermine its military power and end its dominance of Lebanese politics. Recent statements by Israeli leaders about Hezbollah’s military strength add to Hezbollah perception that a plan of attack against it, using the STL indictment as a political cover, is imminent. While Syria can be neutralized to stay out of Hezbollah’s battle in Beirut, Iran will find itself compelled to defend and stand by its most important strategic asset in the region. To respond to these threats and with support from Iran, Hezbollah might find a preemptive attack on its enemies in Beirut is its best defense.

– Ali Younes is a writer and Middle East analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: ali.younes@charter.net.

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