Yesterday, Donald Trump held a press conference beside Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Meeting with any Lebanese Prime Minister ought to be a relief for Trump as Lebanese politics is one of the few places in the world with more divisions than those which currently plague the United States.
Trump however, in his opening remarks stated that Lebanon’s coalition government was “fighting Hezbollah”. This is true in the sense that Saad Hariri’s Future Movement party is fighting Hezbollah at the ballot box in democratic elections, but this is the extent of the fighting.
Hezbollah currently has 12 seats in Lebanon’s multi-party parliament. As part of the governing coalition, Hezbolalh has two Ministers in the Lebanese government and is part of a bloc of parties which includes the Free Patriotic Movement of Lebanese Christian President Michel Aoun. In Lebanon, the country’s sectarian make-up has dictated that the President is a position reserved for a Christian while the Prime Minister is traditionally a Sunni Muslim with the Speaker of Parliament being a position reserved for a Shi’a Muslim. The current speaker is Nabih Berri who leads the Hezbollah allied Amal Movement.
While Prime Minister Hariri certainly shares the prevailing US view opposed to the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the idea that Lebanon is ‘fighting Hezbollah’ is frankly a faux pas for the ages.
The reality is that Hezbollah is considered a more effective fighting force than the Lebanese army, both by Hezbollah’s supporters and its traditional local and regional opponents.
Hezbollah is currently participating in a successful campaign against al-Qaeda terrorists on mountainous border between Syria and Lebanon. Even Hezbollah’s opposition in Lebanon are sitting back with tacit approval of the joint Syrian/Hezbollah strikes against an organisation proscribed as a terrorist group by the Lebanese state.
Trump’s dislike of Hezbollah seems to be mutual, as Hezbollah leader al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah recently released a video slamming Trump.
Trump’s statement must have surely been awkward for Hariri given the fragile political situation in Lebanon.
Now watch Donald Trump say that Lebanon is at war with a party that is in coalition with the Lebanese government.