Missteps made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his visit to Lebanon last week have helped “in securing an Iranian realm on Israel’s border,” an expert in Lebanese affairs wrote in an analysis  published Tuesday in Tablet magazine.
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), catalogued the logical inconsistencies in Tillerson’s remarks ahead of and during his trip to Lebanon, observing that the incoherence in the secretary’s remarks emerged “from trying to combine the regional policy inclinations of President Trump with those of his predecessor, Barack Obama.” Whereas Obama favored preserving Iran’s “equities” in Lebanon, namely Hezbollah, the Trump administration has vocally opposed Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and the greater Middle East.
The Trump administration, in Tillerson’s words, insists that “the only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces.” However, Badran observed that “Hezbollah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).”
After Tillerson was criticized  for saying that Hezbollah was part of the “political process” in Lebanon in Jordan, he seemed to backtrack  and called Hezbollah “a terrorist organization,” that it operated “outside the authority”and stated that there was no difference between its political and military wings. However then the secretary added, “the only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces.”
Badran observed that “Hezbollah is in fact part of the Lebanese government, and works hand in hand with its armed forces, which we finance. So in what way is Hezbollah operating ‘outside the authority’ of the government, when it is the government?”
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, confirmed Badran’s assessment in a speech to the Lebanese government after Tillerson left, “tell the Americans they must accept (Lebanon‘s) demands so that we [i.e., the Lebanese government] hold Hezbollah back from Israel.”
Nasrallah, Badran commented, “once again laid bare the con that his group and the “Lebanese government” are running together on the Americans.”
By turning a blind eye to the coordination between Lebanon’s government and Hezbollah, the Trump administration is helping to secure “an Iranian realm on Israel’s border at a time of rising tensions being driven by Iran’s apparent perception of American confusion.”
While Israel has been striking at targets in Syria to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring game-changing weapons or Iran from establishing permanent bases there, Iran “can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon.”
The danger here is that “as Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.”
The only way to counter this disastrous dynamic, Badran counsels that the United States must quickly “endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets.” And the Trump administration must also abandon its illusions that the government of Lebanon is independent of Hezbollah.
Following the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace nearly two weeks ago, Badran and Jonathan Schanzer, the executive vice president of FDD, wrote  that the situation with Iran’s growing strategic presence on the border with Israel was “unsustainable,” and urged the United States to “back Israel’s responses to Iran’s aggression—now and in the future.”
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