In Israeli-Lebanese brinkmanship, the US is powerless

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According to Roee Nahmias at Y-Net, "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a message to Beirut that Washington cannot prevent an Israeli strike in Lebanon as long as arms smuggling to Hezbollah continues."

Echoing an article in the London-based al-Hayat newspaper, Nahmias writes that "the message was conveyed via US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison to Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri."

The al-Hayat report stated that Berri replied with his own message to Clinton, "that finding a solution to the arms smuggling issue is ‘not a problem’, but that the US must also stop arming Israel with weapons and equipment."

The situation between Hizbullah and Israel has been heating up lately, and the Lebanese government is openly expressing fear of an Israeli attack. Lebanon’s Daily Star notes that "Israel has repeatedly threatened to target all of Lebanon, including its infrastructure in any upcoming war given Hizbullah’s participation in the Cabinet."

Hizbullah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, last month at a commemoration ceremony "warned his group would bomb Israel’s infrastructure, airport and refineries in response to any attack on Lebanese infrastructure. He stressed that the resistance did not seek war but was ready to face any aggressions."

More problematic for the Lebanese is what Hizbullah will do if Israel attacks Hizbullah’s ally, Iran. Defending Lebanese soil achieves a greater consensus than defending Iran’s nuclear program.

During the 2006 Israeli-Hizbullah war, current Prime Minister Saad Hariri was the leader of the Lebanese Parliament’s largest bloc, which dominated the government. Yet, he stayed out of the country during the entire war. Once Israeli bombing of Lebanon escalated out-of-control and the United States was unwilling or unable to enforce an Israeli ceasefire, Lebanese of all stripes turned against the Israeli aggression, and the government led by then Prime Minister Fouad Siniora found itself in a untenable position. Hariri and his allies – with US backing – won the 2009 election suggesting that Hizbullah still needed to be disarmed. But he eventually decided to form another unity government that again included Hizbullah.

Today Hariri is speaking much differently than in 2006. On a state visit to Qatar last Monday, he told reporters,

"Israel was seeking to launch an offensive against Lebanon to distract away from peace negotiations."

“When Israel threatens us to bomb Dahyieh [Beirut’s southern suburb] or south Lebanon or Hizbullah, we should as a Cabinet work to enforce our national unity since it is the only way to resist such threats.”

Disarming Hizbullah is not on the agenda of the new Lebanese government, but the United States and the United Nations (is there a difference these days?) have been increasing pressure on Lebanon to deal with the issue.

Whether the Obama administration is powerless to stop an Israeli attack on Lebanon or is actually in agreement with the current Israeli aggressive posture towards its northern neighbor remains to be seen. We do know that the United States opposed a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority mediated by Egypt, and it objected to the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shilat since it would reap political benefits for Hamas. It is as if Obama and Clinton are determined to seek what Bush could not deliver: the neutering of Hamas, Hizbullah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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