As the wheels of Air Force One, the US presidential plane, hit the tarmac at Tel Aviv airport, many presumed that this is the unraveling of American Middle East policy. His regional tour would affect many countries in the Middle East. This included the ailing Lebanese republic, which hoped that a potential regional settlement will reflect positively on its ongoing collapse.
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This process of wishful thinking, however, presumed that Biden’s sojourn would translate into policy and that the White House and its many advisers have the Middle East and Lebanon in specific as a top priority. It’s an assumption which is uncorroborated by logic or past precedence.
Biden has tried to justify his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region, and while he adopted an apologetic tone, he was unashamed when reminding everyone including the American public that it is in the United States interest to engage with the oil rich region.
“We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world. To do these things, we must engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes,” news reports quoted him saying.
Coincidently, Biden has identified US strategic interests. As it stands, it does not include Lebanon or its recovery, especially given the Lebanese political establishment, including Hezbollah. None has shown signs of remorse of the country’s state of disrepair or implemented reforms to facilitate the projected international community bailout and loans.
So, Biden’s visit sought to realign the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and Israel, and to strengthen the alliance to contain and neutralize Iran. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, through former president Obama’s laxity received unmitigated access to the region. Biden choosing to land in Tel Aviv before flying to Jeddah was in no way a small detail: it is a message to Iran and anyone who wishes to destabilize the area.
Lebanon in this respect will not benefit from the realignment process nor will the oil-rich Gulf states reattempt to salvage it from the hands of Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. Simply, for Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, Lebanon has never been a priority, but instead a secondary issue they no longer wish to invest time and resources in.
Consequently, Hezbollah understands these political shifts. Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah took to television last week to remind everyone of the dangers of not appeasing Iran and granting it its demands. Nasrallah’s empty threats to go to war are merely a reflection of Iran’s frustration of its inability to get their way. Bullying and extortion is policy now, with Nasrallah threatening that if Lebanon cannot extract oil from contested gas fields with Israel, then no one will. Thus, Iran’s Lebanese outfit will declare war on Israel, or so he says.
The reality is that Lebanon’s inability to extract oil rests in the Lebanese state’s abysmal performance in ongoing mediation efforts led by the United States and Amos Hochstein, US senior advisor for Energy Security.
Nasrallah wants to maintain his position that Lebanon’s ongoing collapse is the work of US and Gulf economic sanctions and measures. He wants to exonerate himself and his militia’s role in turning Lebanon from a struggling state to a completely failed narco state.
Nasrallah gullibly believes that he can fight his way out of the poverty hole he has dug, and that recourse to war and violence can replace arduous measures of reform. It’s something which he, and the political elite who enjoy the protection of his Iranian weapons have proved uncapable of doing.
Hezbollah’s threats of going to war to garner resources are no different from Nasrallah’s ridiculous suggestion of growing potatoes on balconies or cozying up to China. It exposes his total lack of understanding of simple economics. Above all, Lebanon’s salvation is not linked to its ability to extract fossil fuel from its waters, but by its ability to understand regional and international developments and policies and adjust its own accordingly.
The war in Ukraine has changed global dynamics and has forced Biden to come down from his high-horse and beg his strategic allies for help in bridging the gap in oil supply. It’s something which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are structurally uncapable of.
Yet, what Biden’s visit has been able to achieve is to remind the Lebanese and the Iranian regime that their countries - which suffer from bread riots and abysmal economies - can never achieve statehood with criminals at their helms.