In a bold announcement that made no foreign headlines, the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council Hashem Safieddine has declared that the Lebanese resistance group will seek to expel US meddling and influence from Lebanese state institutions.
“The US is an enemy no less hostile than Israel, and sometimes more hostile than Israel,” insisted Safieddine, an extremely close confidante of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, during a 4 October internal party meeting. “We cannot deny America’s security, financial, and economic power and influence; it has a strong presence in the Lebanese state.”
According to Hezbollah sources, the Lebanese Army establishment, led by General Joseph Aoun, tops the list of institutions under strong US influence, followed by the Central Bank of Lebanon and other Lebanese security departments, state administrations, and development ministries, all deeply infiltrated by America’s yes-men.
While Safieddine’s declaration – made as Hezbollah defied Israeli threats and a US siege by importing Iranian fuel to lessen Lebanon’s dire energy crisis – was unexpected, it nevertheless constituted a marked escalation from Nasrallah’s usual claim that the US embassy in Lebanon is a “nest of spies.”
It is no secret that the US is on a mission to militarily extricate itself from various West Asian conflict zones in the coming months, particularly from the Syrian and Iraqi theaters. But before doing so, Washington seems hellbent on curbing Hezbollah’s powerful regional role to balance out its own waning influence in the region.
This would explain the recent flurry of diplomatic activity in the Levant, beginning with the meeting between Jordan’s King Abdullah and US President Joe Biden, during which the former calmly informed the latter that Syrian President Bashar Assad is here to stay.
Jordan’s special relationship with Syria is one that King Abdallah is keen on repairing, as his country’s future hinges on reviving the Jordanian corridor between Syria and the Persian Gulf states to reboot his economy. There is also his highly-ambitious ‘Levant Plan,’ a joint economic project tacitly agreed upon by Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon to boost their economies and jump-start region-wide reconstruction – but that plan has been sharply curtailed by Washington, and reconfigured to include only Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
The latter version simply isn’t a sustainable or valuable alternative, and so American eyes are firmly fixed on Iraqi election results, where they hope for the reinstatement of the US-friendly Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who can advance their vision. As one of the region’s influential mediators in Iraqi political affairs, Hezbollah, too, is keenly watching the new political map unfolding in Iraq.
But the US knows very well that given the political and sectarian divisions among the Lebanese, that Hezbollah’s main area of vulnerability is in Lebanon, the resistance group’s safe house. So, Washington spares no effort to besiege Hezbollah at home.
It started by slapping sanctions on wealthy Shia figures and banks by accusing them – often without evidence – of financing the resistance groups’s activities. It moved on to imposing a crippling economic and oil embargo on the whole country, and halting Lebanon’s ability to extract gas from its sea by pressuring French company Total into issuing a discouraging report on those energy resources.
The US, however, has neither succeeded with the economic pressure it has exerted internally on the Lebanese, nor with the external restraints it imposed on Gulf states – led by Saudi Arabia – to limit trade, investment and loans to Beirut’s hard-hit economy.
If anything, American attempts to cordon off the country and deny it supplies provided Hezbollah with the validating impetus necessary to confront the US directly, import Iranian fuel, and transport it via US-sanctioned Syria.
This move not only broke the US siege and forced American consent, but triggered unprecedented US efforts to exempt Lebanon from Washington’s own sanctions on Syria, in order to obtain Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity for the state.
Sources reveal that the US Ambassador in Beirut Dorothy Shea has embarked on a series of private visits to Lebanon’s energy minister, security officials, and Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat. The Cradle has learned that she personally visited Oweidat two weeks ago, ostensibly to ‘thank him’ for giving child custody to an American family. During the meeting, the sources say Shea drilled him on details of the Beirut Port blast investigation, and said the US is watching the case closely.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, also reveal unprecedented US administration activity in the Beirut Port blast investigation, as it believes the process can be used to pressure or isolate Hezbollah. They cite a series of meetings between US embassy representatives and lead judicial investigator Tariq al-Bitar, that are being disingenuously portrayed as “routine reviews” because one of the detained suspects holds US citizenship.
Hezbollah sources, however, tell The Cradle there is a deliberate attempt to falsely characterize the port blast crime as an attack on ‘Christians’ exclusively, and go after Hezbollah by picking off its alliances in government. Judge Bitar has already pointed the finger of suspicion at Hezbollah’s political allies and accused the party of protecting them from accountability. Hezbollah, the sources say, has also been monitoring the relentless activities of US-funded organizations that spawn many of the disinformation narratives surrounding the Port of Beirut explosion.
Concern about Bitar’s performance is reinforced by a recent US Congress Foreign Relations Committee statement, which “praises the integrity of investigator Tariq al-Bitar and expresses concern about Hezbollah’s role in suspending the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion.”
Hezbollah has described this accusation as “playing with fire.” Its officials believe that warning the US against attempts to remove Hezbollah from Lebanese state institutions serves also to warn them that the option to strike back is on the table. These messages also signal to the US that if it persists in meddling in the state affairs of Lebanon, Hezbollah will be forced to act upon this decision, whatever its domestic cost may be.
Hezbollah is well-aware that the fight to remove US interference from Lebanon will be too high a cost for the country to bear at this critically harsh period in its economic crisis. Perhaps that is why Safieddine caveated his language by saying Hezbollah will first evaluate the pros and cons of eradicating American influence from Lebanese institutions. One thing is clear, though – Safieddine sought to send Washington an upgraded warning: “Beware. Don’t test our patience.” One misstep from the Americans, and a con can start to look more like a pro.