Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran realized that they do not have to make concessions in Lebanon – or anywhere else for that matter – before the US presidential elections on November 3. They would rather use the Lebanese crisis as a negotiating chip when the new administration in the US – whether a new Biden administration or another Trump one – starts new talks with Iran.
Until then, neither the initiative of French president Emmanuel Macron, nor any other regional or international initiative, could force Hezbollah to concede.
After Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Adib recused himself, Macron gave a rare and specific press conference, focused on the Lebanese crisis. Although he did not declare any punitive measures against the Lebanese political elite, he did name and shame those who hindered his initiative, namely, Hezbollah and the other Shia political party Amal.
On Sunday, Macron accused Lebanon’s leaders of betraying their promises over their failure to form a government, and he gave the country’s political class four to six weeks to implement his roadmap. Macron said the political elite in Lebanon had decided “to betray” their obligations and had committed “collective treason” by failing to form a government. But more specifically, Macron pointed at Hezbollah, warning that the group should “not think it is more powerful than it is.... It must show that it respects all the Lebanese. And in recent days, it has clearly shown the opposite.”
During the six weeks that Macron gave to the Lebanese parties to sort out the problems, the US presidential elections will have taken place, and Macron and those in Lebanon will know which administration they’ll be dealing with for the next four to eight years.
Accordingly, Macron understood that Iran will not give him any win in Lebanon and that they prefer to negotiate directly with the US after the presidential elections. Macron’s initiative has failed, and until November 3, Lebanon will enter a phase of rapid deterioration – economic, social and security deterioration – as all parties will try to increase their odds of a favorable outcome ahead of the next round of talks. Macron will focus on the humanitarian aspects, the Trump administration on more sanctions on Hezbollah and probably more of its allies, and Iran on its survival and the survival of its proxies.
If Trumps wins a second term, his Iran policy will probably be the same. Although he said he is willing to negotiate a deal with Iran, it will probably include addressing Iran’s malign activities in the region.
However, the question remains what route Biden will take if he wins. Will he pursue a strategy that will save the Iranian regime and its proxies in the region, or is this is some kind of wishful thinking by Hezbollah and its sponsors?
Biden was part of the Obama administration that signed the JCPOA with Iran, but that doesn’t mean that Biden necessarily has the same outlook or that he endorses the same Iran policy as Obama. It is too early to tell, especially given that Biden’s foreign policy team has not been formed. But the one aspect that might differentiate Biden’s Iran policy from Obama’s is the fact that Biden is not in a hurry.
When Obama decided to move on with the negotiations, he was already in his second term, and Iran was by no means in a rush to reach a deal. Iran’s economy was much better, and the regime was stronger and less challenged. So Iran was able to practice its strategy of patience and play its waiting game to secure its regional interests before agreeing to any deal brokered by the Obama administration.
Accordingly, Iran’s interests in the region and its plans of expansionism were not challenged by the deal. Iran was able to expand its powers in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen without US hindrance, until Trump’s administration came along and sanctions were imposed.
However, this time around, Iran is in the corner and does not have the luxury of time. On the other hand, Biden would be at the beginning of his first term and will be in no need to rush signing a new deal with Iran, although he might ease off some of the pressure. Biden will also have other priorities, such as the COVID-19 challenges, China, and Russia.
In Lebanon, until Hezbollah faces the reality that Lebanon is not going to be Trump’s or Biden’s priority, and that time is not on their side, Lebanon might be completely lost and become a failed state.
Meanwhile, it has become clear to all parties involved – the US, the Europeans, the French, regional powers, and all of the Lebanese, including the Shia community – that Hezbollah is the main culprit behind the failure of the French initiative, and the reason why Lebanon has collapsed. It will be very difficult to walk back from this.
Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.
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