While Lebanon seems more than ever affected by the consequences of the tug-of-war between the United States and Iran, especially with the enforcement of the US Caesar Act against the Syrian regime, Washington is preparing to release 13 Lebanese nationals held on its territory on various charges. Among them is businessman Kassem Tajeddine, accused by Washington of being a major financial contributor to Hezbollah. Arrested in 2017 while in Morocco, Tajeddine was sentenced to five years in prison and a $50 million fine.
Information about his release, confirmed by security sources, came as a surprise to political circles, which fail to interpret the significance of this move in such an explosive and tense context. For some, it is a simple routine procedure that has no hidden diplomatic or political message. For others, on the contrary, it is yet another example of the policy followed by the US ad-ministration, which perfectly uses the carrot and the stick to bring its opponents, or even its en-emies, to the negotiating table, but under a balance of power that must be in Washington’s fa-vor.
In any case, barring unforeseen circumstances, 13 Lebanese detained in the US are expected to return to Lebanon in July. Most of them have been charged with collaborating with Hezbollah or for crimes related to money laundering.
The move was definitely not a sign of openness on the part of the US administration towards the so-called resistance camp, Western diplomatic sources said. Nor does it indicate a willing-ness on the part of the United States to alleviate the impact of the Caesar Act on Lebanon.
However, to a seasoned Lebanese diplomat, it fits perfectly within the policy of the current US administration, for which all means are good to push its enemies to the negotiating table. According to the diplomat, the Caesar Act is hence only a means of pushing both Lebanon and Iraq, as well as probably the Syrian regime’s current allies, Iran and Russia, to a dialogue designed to adopt exceptions to avoid the complete suffocation of the countries affected by the new US law.
The current dialogue between the US administration and the Baghdad government on the with-drawal of US troops from Iraq must be closely monitored, according to the diplomat. The US intention to withdraw from Iraq was announced following a decision to this effect by the Iraqi Parliament in the wake of the assassination in early January of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG), and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
But both sides wanted the dialogue to take place discreetly and away from popular pressures or developments on the ground. In any case, the Lebanese diplomat noted that if an agreement is reached between Baghdad and Washington on a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, it will inevitably have an impact on the situation in Syria. This will be especially true in Syria's northern region where fighting continues among various parties with interests that are at the same time domestic, regional and international, the diplomat added. In this context, the Ameri-cans don’t want a possible withdrawal of their troops to constitute a blow to their interests and those of their allies in the region. Here lies the importance for Washington to conduct a dia-logue in a position of strength, with strong negotiation cards.
It is also in this context that the diplomat explained the US increased pressure on Lebanon which targets all sectors at the same time: the closure of illegal crossing routes between Lebanon and Syria under the pretext of stopping smuggling between the two countries, the US dollar crisis on domestic markets, the attempt to include the implementation of UN Security Resolu-tion 1559 and Hezbollah’s disarmament in the demands of the popular protests, repeated street clashes and threats of internal discord, the socioeconomic crisis coupled with a political crisis, etc...
Suddenly, all problems exploded at the same time. This certainly shows how rotten the public institutions are and also the fragility of the sectors that were thought to be strong, such as the banking industry. But, according to the diplomat, this explosive situation at all levels might not be fortuitous; it would be a matter of pushing the Lebanese to the limit so that they negotiate in a position of weakness. However, it is also not a question of bringing about total collapse because, in this case, the situation may get out of control. According to this logic, it would be good to send, from time to time, small positive signals.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 19th of June)
While Lebanon seems more than ever affected by the consequences of the tug-of-war between the United States and Iran, especially with the enforcement of the US Caesar Act against the Syrian regime, Washington is preparing to release 13 Lebanese nationals held on its territory on various charges. Among them is businessman Kassem Tajeddine, accused by Washington of being a major financial...