After Saad Hariri’s return, Washington hopes for ‘calm, stability’ in Lebanon

Pierre Ghanem

Published: Updated:

The US administration is at ease over how the situation developed in Lebanon as Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to the country and held off his resignation to pave way for President Michel Aoun’s political efforts with cabinet members, which include Hezbollah.

A spokesperson for the US State Department told AlArabiya.net that “the American administration is committed to maintaining stability and security in Lebanon,” adding that’s it concerned about the government’s continuity and respect for the principle of dissociation.

This statement comes amid Lebanese and regional parties’ anticipation regarding upcoming developments in Lebanon as a month ago the situation was tense after Hariri announced his resignation and said it was important to confront Iran and its militias, especially Hezbollah which has massive military power in Lebanon and Syria and whose activities extend to Iraq and Yemen.

American priorities

The US State Department spokesperson said the US “did not change its stance and policy regarding confronting Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region,” adding that “Iran’s interferences in conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen through the Revolutionary Guards and by supporting militias, particularly Hezbollah, is causing tensions in the Middle East.”

These statements show that the Americans’ priority is the situation in Syria as there are serious attempts to engage in a political process and arrange the situation on the ground. The US’ priority is to also maintain Lebanese institutions. The Americans believe that confronting Iran is a long-term policy that requires the region’s countries to be unified.

The American agenda is different than many analysts’ and politicians’ expectations as these statements greatly explain the Americans’ concern over “calm in Lebanon.” Therefore, the US continues to adhere to the current status quo and emphasize that it will continue to support Lebanese security institutions, particularly the Lebanese army. The US also expects the Lebanese elections to be held on time. Al-Arabiya.net learnt that the US State Department informed its envoy in Lebanon Elizabeth Richard of this stance and asked her to inform Hariri of it. Richard did so when Hariri returned to Lebanon and when she met with him in his residence in Beirut.

Gaps in the US administration’s Iran strategy

Those who oppose Hezbollah and Iran think there are several gaps in the American stance. They do believe that the Trump administration has a policy towards Iran but they think that this policy lacks details. Contacts between Washington and Lebanese politicians reflect initial stances but do not show there are American plans or discussions about confronting Hezbollah’s behavior.

Those who oppose Hezbollah also think that the Americans prioritize fighting ISIS and resolving the situation in Syria. They’re saying that the Americans voice their discontent with Hezbollah’s influence in the Lebanese government and actions in Syria and South Lebanon and that they do want to see change but they do not take any measures like what they did in the end of 2004 and in 2005 when the Syrian army had to withdraw from Lebanon.

On the contrary, the administration officials only let the Congress handle this via a draft law that tightens sanctions on Hezbollah and hints at imposing sanctions on whoever helps Hezbollah, be it a political figure, a party of a financial and economic institution.

Hezbollah benefitting from the deadlock

Those who oppose Hezbollah also voiced their worry that Hezbollah will exploit the current situation and say it’s cooperating with Hariri by withdrawing its fighters from Syria. The thing is that the main battle against ISIS has ended. Meanwhile Hezbollah denies it has anything to do with what’s happening in Yemen. This “clam” will thus last until the parliamentary elections are held and Hezbollah and its allies may enjoy a bigger majority at this point. Lebanon will thus reach the point of no return in terms of being controlled by Iran and in support of the Syrian regime.

Hariri also finds himself in a critical situation as on one had he wants to maintain peace and calm in Lebanon but on another hand, he wants to present an achievement to the Arab world by convincing Hezbollah to stop its interferences. Hariri must thus convince others that he’s capable of achieving this miracle while his rivals accuse him of falling into Hezbollah’s trap.