Today President Donald Trump held a private meeting followed by a brief joint news conference with his visitor du jour Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon.
It is impossible to discuss anything about Lebanon (except maybe the cuisine and fashion) without talking Hezbollah. During the news conference, Trump mentioned Lebanon’s main military and political party Hezbollah several times. He ominously hinted at new measures he will inflict on the Lebanese party in the next 24 hours. Hopefully that is something he has discussed with officials outside his West Wing cabal of delusional uninformed crazies and culture warriors.
At the news conference, Saad Hariri never mentioned Hezbollah, his major partner in the Lebanese government, and the major political and military player in Lebanon. Mr. Hariri battled politically with Hezbollah for several years, when he was firmly a leader of the March 14 movement, strongly allied to Saudi Arabia and financed by it. Hezbollah is a strong ally of Iran, which finances it, and has led the March 8 movement.
The reactions of the two men to questions about internal Lebanese (and Syrian) matters were in stark contrast. Trump, as usual, was belligerent about what he will do with Hezbollah. His Lebanese guest did not deal with his major partner in the current Lebanese government, not publicly in a foreign capital. (But what the two leaders discussed privately about the famous Iran-allied and dominant militia is another matter).
Tells you something about the realities on the ground in Lebanon. Realities inside Lebanon, not as understood by some in Washington, nor as told by outside Arab potentates…….
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
“However, this political dynamic may be starting to change. In recent years other Shiite organizations that resent the dominance of Hezbollah and Amal have emerged to question the direction of their leadership. This defection began almost immediately after the 2006 war. While hard-liners hailed Hezbollah’s resilience in the face of the Israeli onslaught as a “divine victory,” others questioned the human and material cost of the group’s intransigent stance. Skepticism continued to grow in the following years – after a 2008 invasion of Sunni areas in Beirut intended to consolidate Hezbollah’s political power, after a 2009 corruption scandal that brought into question the altruism of the group’s leaders, and most especially, after 2011 when it became apparent that Hezbollah was intervening in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the repressive Assad regime. One new Shiite voice is a group called the Lebanese Option Party, founded in 2007. The head of the organization is Ahmad al-Asaad, whose father, Kamel al-Asaad…………”
This piece is rehashing old wishful thinking, extremely wishful thinking about Lebanon. It is trying to recycle an old failed approach. It is old stuff of the kind that Thomas Friedman, for example, would hang his hopes on. The old semi-feudal Al As’ad family? The outlier Ali Al Amin who has hardly any following and is a permanent fixture on the vast Wahhabi sectarian media of the Saudi princes (Alarabiya, Asharq Alawsat, etc)?
The Al As’ad family were the semi-feudal political overlords of much of South Lebanon, during the days when the Shi’a were marginalized and kept impoverished and uneducated in Lebanon. They are as representative of Lebanese Shi’as as, say, the Romanovs were representative of the Russian people. The pro-Saudi March 14 camp keeps going back to them as a possible way to weaken Hezbollah. So far to no avail.
The petroleum princes need to think outside the box: they can’t go to the past and present it as the future. The people will never buy it. Saudi media have in the past promoted other pliable Shi’a stooges, including one or two crackpot clerics, to no avail. You can only buy so many votes, and you can never buy true love although you can lose it.
They need to try a new method, these princes: how about offering Lebanon membership in the Gulf GCC if they ditch Hezbollah? Hell at that price, even Hassan Nasrallah might become excited enough to jump on the Wahhabi bandwagon, right next to Hariri.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
“Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not return to Lebanon empty-handed the way he left it three years and four months ago. After having spent his time roaming between the hotels of Europe and castles of Saudi Arabia, he crowned his return to Lebanon with a Saudi grant to the Lebanese army and security forces. Backed by the decision of King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz, Hariri is here to spend $1 billion in support of the Lebanese Army in its fight against terrorism. He is also set to “lead the Sunni moderate movement,” as he said at a March 14 meeting yesterday, and as Future Movement officials constantly reiterate. Many questions surround the circumstances of Hariri’s return, while the answers may start in Mosul but not end in Ersal. “Hariri is back and this is final. He may travel abroad to visit someone, but he is back in Lebanon,” a source close to Hariri told Al-Akhbar, while Future Movement officials insist that he returned to lead “Sunni moderation” and [oversee] the spending of the Saudi grant……………”
A tough task entrusted by the Al Saud princes to their man in Beirut. Reset the “Sunni” movement by re-configuring relations with the Wahhabi takfiri terrorist groups that the Hariri alliance had encouraged and aided only a couple of years ago in both Lebanon and Syria. The one billion dollars in Saudi aid is read by some as a reduction of an earlier Saudi commitment which promised $3 billion of arms to be bought specifically from France. (But perhaps that French weapons deal was offered by the Saudis when they were trying to get France to help their side in the Syrian war). Others have added this new billion to that earlier three billion and talked about $4 billion total Saudi military aid. Apparently so far none of it has materialized, as far as I know.
The other task entrusted to Hariri, a task that is the main Saudi obsession, is even tougher, nay hopeless. Recent years have not been kind to the pro-Saudi March 14 bloc, and Mr. Hariri is now tasked with resuming the “fight” against Hezbollah in its own territory. The Saudis have been trying for years to stem the power of Hezbollah in Lebanon through the use of the only weapons at their disposal: oil money and Western sanctions. But facts on the ground, Lebanese political alliances, and population demographic trends have been moving against them. Apparently petro-money is not enough to get a majority of Lebanese to discover the joys of an alliance with Wahhabism.
Even the last elections of 2009, when the infusion of a lot of money managed to get a temporary majority in parliament for the Saudi-allied March 14 Movement (Hariri, Falange, etc), did not turn out as expected. The voters still awarded March 8 (Hezbollah and its Christian allies) a majority of the popular vote (about 54%). Given that political reality, it did not take long for Mr. Hariri to be forced out of power.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum