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No, America: Lebanon is not your friend.

Is Lebanon America’s friend? The Trump administration, like its predecessors, wrongfully believes it can be. Even before arriving in Beirut last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Jordan, made a huge blunder by suggesting Hezbollah has a “legitimate role” in Lebanon’s politics. He did a slight walk-back in Beirut, reverting to a long-held...
Time: 19:51     Date: 19.02.2018
Last US News - Opinion: No, America: Lebanon is not your friend. NY Post 24 - US News

Even before arriving in Beirut last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Jordan, made a huge blunder by suggesting Hezbollah has a “legitimate role” in Lebanon’s politics.

He did a slight walk-back in Beirut, reverting to a long-held American assumption that by strengthening government institutions, like the Lebanese Armed Forces, the country can counter Hezbollah.

That, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Lebanon watcher Tony Badran observes, is an assumption made by successive US administrations but never borne out by the facts on the ground.

Since the last years of the Bush administration, America has drawn “a distinction that doesn’t exist between Hezbollah and the state,” Badran says.

Indeed, Hezbollah has installed top generals in the LAF. Then there’s the 2008 Doha Agreement, through which Hezbollah, after a campaign of opponent assassinations, gained a veto power over all cabinet-level decisions.

Hezbollah was created, and is largely still controlled by, Iran — and is doing Tehran’s bidding in the region, from Syria to Yemen. Through Hezbollah, Lebanon has, in effect, become a wholly-owned Iranian subsidiary.

So no, Hezbollah isn’t, as Europeans like to believe, similar to the old Irish Republican Army, where distinct political and military wings existed. (Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, has clearly stated no such distinction exists.)

The premise of Tillerson’s visit last week, a Hezbollah-Lebanese state distinction, isn’t correct either. He walked on eggshells, even willing to accept Lebanon’s explanation that the Hezbollah-allied president, Michel Aoun, didn’t snub America by keeping him waiting for an appointment.

Worse: While in Beirut, Tillerson said the Trump administration would urge Israel to be “constructive” in its dealings with Lebanon.

That line was an easy layup for Nasrallah. After Tillerson left, Aoun issued a statement saying “the US must play an active role” and confront Israel as it “continues its aggressive behavior.”

Sure enough, following Tillerson’s visit, his Mideast point man, David Satterfield, met with Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz Sunday in an attempt to mediate a water dispute between Lebanon and Israel.

Why? After Israeli and American companies discovered rich oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean, Hezbollah, and later the Lebanese government, argued the exploration was done in Lebanese waters.

But territorial waters are marked by a projected line from land borders. When Israel left Lebanon in 2000, the United Nations certified the withdrawal, drawing a “blue line” along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Hezbollah and the Lebanese government never accepted that line.

So what compromise can be reached over a water line, if Lebanon doesn’t even accept the border on land? Yes, Beirut will pretend to negotiate, hoping America will lean on Israel for concessions, but it won’t accept any compromise.

Why? Lebanon watchers here and in Israel tell me the maritime dispute is a perfect pretext for Hezbollah to launch a war with Israel once Nasrallah and his Iranian masters determine the time is ripe.

So why should the Trump administration play this game? And why should the State Department negotiate with a government that’s essentially controlled by an organization topping its own terrorist list?

And why should America send a Cabinet-level official to Beirut, lending credibility to the Hezbollah-controlled government there?

The stakes are high. Under the open eyes of UN observers, Hezbollah has amassed tens of thousands of missiles, threatening every town in Israel. A war is always around the corner, and the water dispute could well be the trigger.

So, no, bolstering the Lebanese “state” and its army won’t make this powder keg less menacing. There’s a good chance, in fact, that by doing so, America will supply the matches that’ll light its fuse.

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