On March 22, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Lebanon to convince countries in the region to join the United State with enacting harsh sanctions against Iran. The US believes that Iran is funding terrorist organizations around the world and believes it must be stopped.
Under the Trump administration, the US has been hard against Iran by increasing sanctions and pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Pompeo discussed Hezbollah with the Lebanese government. According to Pompeo, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and will start wars, end democracy in Lebanon, and allow Iran to rule it.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri understand the United States’ perspective with the issue of Hezbollah, but they view Hezbollah as a legitimate party organization, not terrorists.
Hezbollah has 70 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese Parliament and has gained momentum in recent years. However, the US continues to sanction them and Iran. President Aoun has said that even though these sanctions target Hezbollah, Lebanon suffers as well. Pompeo says that if the Lebanese government helps him, the US will help Lebanon.
The issue Lebanon faces is quite difficult because Hezbollah is an important actor since the Lebanese Civil War. Their military power is also important because they help defend Lebanon against its enemies, such as Israel.
Lebanon does not want to cut ties with the US but they cannot afford to lose an important military and political actor. But Hezbollah is not just invested into Lebanon, they also have a presence in Syria and support Al-Assad militarily. This is also a conflict of interest for the United States.
In previous administrations, they have all condemned Hezbollah and deemed them to be a terrorist group, but no other president has been so severe against the group and Iran than Trump.
This dilemma has been shrugged off year after year by both the Americans and the Lebanese, but it could change today. The economy of Lebanon could suffer under the sanctions posed on Hezbollah; thus, forcing the Lebanese to change their political affiliations with the group.
The country has not been this stable in decades. Lebanon is open for commerce, tourism, and development. They do not want Hezbollah to be in the way of being more connected with the rest of the world.
Nick Webb is the Research Fellow at Rise to Peace.