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September 29, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8949

Following Criticism, French President Macron Takes Harsher Stance: Hizbullah 'Cannot Claim To Be A Political Force Of A Democratic Country By Terrorizing' The Population With Its Weapons

September 29, 2020
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, France | Special Dispatch No. 8949

On September 26, 2020, Lebanese acting prime minister Mustapha Adib stepped down, announcing that he was abandoning his efforts to form a new Lebanese government. The failure was the result of numerous obstacles from political elements.[1] At a press conference the following day, September 27, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed sorrow about the failure to form a government and harshly criticized Hizbullah, saying that the organization could not be a terror organization and at the same time a political power. Macron also attacked Lebanon's political elements, specifically Hizbullah and the Shi'ite Amal party, accusing them of selfishness and of betraying and violating their commitments to France, which recently unveiled a roadmap to extricate Lebanon from its political and economic crisis that was greatly exacerbated by the August 4 explosion at Beirut Port.[2]

At the press conference, Macron said: "Hizbullah cannot be at one and the same time an army fighting Israel, a militia unleashed against civilians in Syria and a respectable party in Lebanon. It must not believe it is stronger than it is and it is up to it to show that it respects all of the Lebanese. It has, in recent days, clearly shown the opposite...

"I understood that the will of Amal and Hizbullah – and this is what has happened in recent days – was to make no concessions, was NOT to honor what they explicitly told me [as they sat] around the [negotiating] table, looking into each other's eyes: [i.e.] that they agreed to a 'mission' government [and] to a roadmap of reforms...

"Hizbullah and the Shi'ites are faced today with a choice that is also historic: whether they want to choose democracy and Lebanon, or whether they want something worse... Today the matter is in the hands of Hizbullah and President [Nabih] Berri: Do YOU want the policy of 'something worse' [i.e. clashes], or do you want to integrate the Shi'ite camp into the camp of democracy and the interests of Lebanon?...

"Hizbullah has maximized its weight by using ambiguity: It is simultaneously a militia, a terrorist group, [and] a political force. The Hizbullah representatives in parliament need to clarify their position. You [Hizbullah] cannot claim to be a political force of a democratic country by terrorizing [the population] with your weapons, and you will not be able to sit around the [negotiating] table for long if you do not keep the commitments you made around the table."[3]

It is noteworthy that Macron's criticism of Hizbullah is a significantly harsher position than his previous one, that recognized Hizbullah as a legitimate Lebanese political body despite the arsenal of weapons at its disposal. This criticism was voiced following Adib's resignation, and following the harsh condemnation, heard in recent weeks in Lebanon and in the Arab world, of Macron's statement that "Hizbullah has representatives elected by the Lebanese" and "is part of the political scene,' with no mention of disarming Hizbullah – which is designated as terrorist by the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and some Arab states – or of curbing the organization's increasing control of Lebanon's state institutions.

According to the French daily Le Figaro, during his August 6 visit to Beirut Port following the explosion, Macron spoke privately with the head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad – the first time any French president has openly spoken with a Hizbullah official. In the conversation, Macron stated that although "Hizbullah has representatives elected by the Lebanese" and "is part of the political scene," it must prove that it serves Lebanon's interests rather than Iran's. He added that France would not "bother" Hizbullah regarding its weapons or regarding several other issues it considers important, but that in return Hizbullah would have to "put oxygen in the system" and "agree to play the game."[4] At a September 1, 2020 press conference in Beirut, during his second visit to Lebanon since the port explosion, Macron drew a distinction between Hizbullah's "military and terrorist component" and its political branch, stating that the latter is part of the Lebanese parliament and that a solution to the Lebanese crisis requires engaging it in "sincere conversation."[5] 

This French position was criticized by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who wrote in the French daily Le Figaro on September 14, 2020: "Unfortunately, France refuses to designate all of Hizbullah a terrorist organization, as other European nations have done, and has restrained EU progress on that same action. Instead, Paris maintains the fiction that there is a 'political wing' of Hizbullah, when all of it is controlled by a single terrorist – Hassan Nasrallah."[6]

Criticism of the French position and Macron's recent statements also appeared in the Lebanese and Saudi press. 'Ali Hamada, a columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, wrote in two recent columns that if Macron's rescue plan for Lebanon does not tackle the issue of Hizbullah's weapons, not only will it fail to save the country but it will actually perpetuate Hizbullah's control over the state institutions of Lebanon as well as Iran's "occupation" of it.

Faisal 'Abbas, editor of the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, wrote that when he called Hizbullah a Lebanese party and part of the Lebanese people, Macron was forgetting that the Nazis were also an elected German party and part of the German people. The least he could have done, 'Abbas added, was to publicly demand that Hizbullah lay down its weapons and dissolve its terrorist wing, and to underscore his threat to impose sanctions against the organization. He concluded by saying that what Lebanon needs is an overhaul of its entire political system – meaning "out with the old... above all, Hizbullah themselves."

Iraqi-Lebanese journalist Hussain 'Abdul Hussain focused on the Iranian angle. Writing on the English-language website of the Al-Arabiya network, he argued that Macron could have pressured Iran to disarm Hizbullah, but instead, like Germany and Britain, and unlike the U.S., he is choosing to appease Iran. All he could offer, wrote Hussain, was "frank, long, and repeated" conversations with Lebanon's ruling class, but that such conversations are bound to be futile given Hizbullah's domination of this ruling elite, said 'Abdul Hussain.

The following report presents translated excerpts from articles in the Lebanese and Saudi press criticizing Macron's position vis-à-vis Hizbullah.

Lebanese Journalist: Macron's Ideas Will Only Perpetuate Hizbullah's Control Over All Lebanese Government Decisions

'Ali Hamada wrote in his September 1, 2020 column in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar: "Appointing Mustapha Adib [as Lebanese prime minister] and tasking him with forming the new government reflects a French-Iranian arrangement accepted by most members of the dominant bloc in Lebanon's parliament and political scene. This arrangement pleases Hizbullah, because it prevents the appointment of a figure who might defy [Hizbullah's] plan to take over what remains of Lebanon's state institutions...

"The great paradox is that the centennial of Lebanon's founding takes place under the aegis of [French] President Emmanuel Macron, who arrived in Lebanon with a set of ideas that will ultimately serve only to [preserve] the status quo and to perpetuate Hizbullah's control over all Lebanese government decisions and all state apparatuses, especially the security [apparatus]...

"What about the essential issues that must be raised in Lebanon's centennial? What about Hizbullah's weapons? What about implementing UN resolutions, starting with the important Resolution 1559 [calling for disarming the militias in the country]?  What about this organization's control over the state's resources and institutions? What about the three-part [phrase] 'military-people-resistance,' or the [phrase] 'resisting people,' which were invented as an excuse for preserving the illegal weapons? The only thing that can be said on the centennial of the Lebanese state is that Lebanon, worryingly, appears to have somehow fallen under the patronage of an Iranian mandate that is partnered with France, just like the Syrian-U.S. mandate that preceded it 30 years ago!"[7]

A few days later, on September 5, he wrote in his column: "Macron left [Lebanon] after setting a date to revisit it, [but only] on the condition that a [new] government is formed and that rapid efforts are made to implement the French reforms. This plan did not even mention the issues that really concern Hizbullah...

"This is where the American position comes into the picture... [This position] goes much further [than France's] in terms of focusing on Hizbullah's anomalous status [as an armed party within Lebanon]. The Americans believe – and broad sectors in Lebanon believed this even earlier – that the failure to address Hizbullah's status will torpedo the economic-financial rescue plan that France is promoting. Moreover, it will leave Lebanon open to increasing Iranian influence, especially in the absence of any principled desire by the Lebanese opposition to come out against the [Iranian] occupation [of Lebanon]... 

"Any plan for rescuing Lebanon from its tragic economic situation must include some clause about implementing the UN resolutions, starting with the historic Resolution 1559. Otherwise, the French initiative may collapse, due to the inability to deal with the Hizbullah situation. This is why we are concerned that Macron has actually supplied oxygen to Hizbullah and to Lebanon's current president..."[8] 

Editor Of Saudi Daily: Macron, Who Says Hizbullah Is Part Of Lebanon, Should Remember That The Nazis Were Part Of Germany

Faisal 'Abbas, editor of the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, wrote in the paper on September 2: "...While the French president must be praised for his genuine concern and rapid decision to come to Lebanon’s aid in its darkest hour, I fear some of the advice he has been given may be demonstrating the accuracy of a common definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I refer of course to Macron’s remarks during his visit to Lebanon in relation to the Iran-backed Hizbullah group.

"Hizbullah 'represents a part of the Lebanese people and is an elected party,' Macron told the U.S. news site Politico.[9] (Surely a Frenchman, of all people, should need no reminder that Adolf Hitler's Nazis were 'a part of the German people' and an elected political party.)
On Hizbullah, Macron said: 'Today there is a partnership between it and several other parties, and if we don’t want Lebanon to descend into a model in which terror would prevail at the expense of other matters, we have to educate Hizbullah and other parties about their responsibilities.'

"Really, Mr. President? How on earth do you propose to educate a party that you yourself concede has an armed, terrorist wing as well as a political one? That would be the equivalent of asking a schoolteacher to discipline a misbehaving student who came to class with a loaded gun. Such illogical statements and positions, including French support of the Iran nuclear deal, lead one to wonder whether Macron's own Middle East advisers are the ones who need to be educated on the region’s history and realities.

"As the Lebanese politician Nadim Gemayel put it on Twitter: Would you accept, Mr. President, that a French party takes up arms and interferes militarily in a European country, or declares war on countries that are allies of France?

"No one tried harder than the late [former Lebanese prime minister] Rafik Hariri to engage and absorb Hizbullah. His 'reward' was to be assassinated by a man determined by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to be a leading figure in the 'terrorist wing' of Hizbullah – the same people who took Beirut by force in 2008 when their 'political wing' failed to do so democratically.

"'Don't ask France to come wage war against a Lebanese political force... it would be absurd and crazy,' Macron said. And of course, he is right; no one expects France – or anyone else – to put boots on the ground, or wage a war it cannot win without further devastating a country already on the brink of collapse.

"Rather, what ordinary Lebanese want, what they have been demanding since last October, is an overhaul of the whole political system. This means 'out with the old,' including Nabih Berri, parliamentary speaker since 1992; President Michel Aoun, a former warlord who allied himself with Hizbullah to obtain his position and in doing so has severely damaged the unity of Lebanese Christians, threatening those few who have not already fled the country; and above all, Hizbullah themselves...

"The very least [Macron] could have done was to publicly demand that Hizbullah lay down their weapons and dissolve their terrorist wing. But to expect the Lebanese to believe a pledge given to Macron by any politician while Hizbullah still has the upper (and armed) hand is naïve...

"As for the guarantees Macron gave, he seems to think that withholding the donations pledged to Lebanon at the Paris conference in 2018 would be enough of a deterrent. Of course, the problem with this is that it would be a punishment of the Lebanese people, as opposed to their corrupt politicians.

"Macron did speak of possible sanctions of political leaders if they don't fall into line, but it was too little, too late. If I were advising the French president, I would have made this particular statement the main talking point if he is to concede that there is no other way to deal with the current leaders.

"The French president would have had a completely different reception if he had shown that he meant business, possibly by demonstrating what could be done in terms of sanctions and asset freezes. This would have boosted confidence among the average Lebanese, who have had enough of seeing the rich and powerful escape punishment over and over again.

"Critics of a resolute and determined approach will argue that it is not the way to persuade political leaders to come to the table. The powerful counter-argument is that, so far, President Macron’s approach has been well-equipped with carrots... but woefully short of a stick."[10]

Iraqi-Lebanese Journalist: "France Prefers To Appease Iran Rather Than Confront Its Destabilizing Activities In The Middle East, Especially In Lebanon"

Hussain 'Abdul-Hussain, a columnist for the English-language website of the Saudi Al-Arabiya network, wrote on September 3, 2020: "France's President Emmanuel Macron has taken the wrong approach in Lebanon, failing to assert French influence to pressure Iran to disarm Hizbullah and bring about real change.

"Nothing shows the toothlessness of French diplomacy in Lebanon more than Macron telling Politico that had he insisted on the popular candidate Nawaf Salam becoming Lebanon's new prime minister, France would have undermined Salam’s tenure 'because we put him in a system in which the parliament will block everything.' So weak is Macron's influence that the only thing he had to offer was to hold 'frank, long and repeated conversations with the ruling class, threatening to withhold aid and impose sanctions,' wrote Politico.[11] Even the policy of 'long conversations' assumes that the ruling class – a rubber stamp outfit for the actual ruler, Hizbullah – can actually decide on anything in the country whose economy has been in free fall.

"Macron seems unaware of the main principle of diplomacy: speak softly and carry a big stick. In the Middle East, Macron does not offer a coherent strategy that gives him enough carrots and sticks to conduct his diplomacy. Even sanctions on Lebanon’s rulers are an American tool.

"In fact, the French president had forfeited his leverage long before the Beirut port explosion, which prompted a sudden burst of French interest in Lebanon. By then, it had become common knowledge that Beirut's decisions are made in Tehran. Yet instead of formulating a policy that bargains with Iran for an independent Lebanon – leveraging Tehran's need of French support for the Iran nuclear deal for concessions in Lebanon – Macron incorrectly assumed that Lebanon could be fixed independently, like a normal state.

"Like Britain and Germany, France has endorsed a policy of appeasement toward Tehran's regime. When U.S. President Donald Trump asked that changes be made to the Iran nuclear deal, the Europeans started a mediation effort that collapsed under Iranian refusal to make any sunset clauses permanent. When America re-imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, France and the Europeans ducked.

"Then came the expiry of the UN arms embargo on Iran. The Europeans supported America on the need to extend the embargo at the UN, but when Washington put forward a resolution to that effect before the Security Council, France, Britain and Germany voted against it.

"For some reason, perhaps lucrative contracts (such as the development of Iran's Pars oil field by French oil and gas company Total, which was dropped after Trump re-imposed U.S. sanctions), France prefers to appease Iran rather than confront its destabilizing activities in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon. When Paris concedes its leverage with Iran, it loses its power in Lebanon. Macron was correct. With his weak hand, all he could offer was long conversations.

"Macron steered clear from the real reform required to rescue Lebanon – disarming Hizbullah. The French president justified avoiding this subject by saying that he opposed whatever leads to military escalation – [using] the same excuse given by Iran apologists in Washington, who oppose anything other than concessions to Iran based on the incorrect assumption that twisting Iran's arm will certainly lead to war.

"Disarming Hizbullah is impossible with war, and only possible through Lebanese consensus despite Hizbullah's opposition. Whenever Lebanon's ruling class spoke with one voice, it achieved what had previously seemed impossible – such as ejecting Palestinian militias in 1982, and Syrian troops in 2005...

"Lebanon needs help, and Macron's attention is welcome. But help is needed for fundamental change that includes disarming Hizbullah, a gargantuan task that is only possible through convincing the ruling class that the party cannot protect their corruption anymore, but will rather bring them down with it under international pressure and sanctions. Once the oligarchs gang up on Hizbullah and sink it, the rebuilding of Lebanon from scratch, including constitutionally, fiscally and financially, becomes possible. Otherwise, by demanding early elections in a country where a militia can coerce results in its own favor, Macron is doing Hizbullah a favor by whitewashing a failing system..."[12]

 

[1] Aljoumhouria.com, September 26, 2020.

[2] The roadmap calls, inter alia, for taking steps to fight corruption, improve border controls, resume talks with the International Monetary Fund, pass a budget for 2021, and hold parliamentary elections. Reuters.com, September 15, 2020.

[3] Elysee.fr, September 27, 2020

[4] Le Figaro (France), August 31, 2020.

[5] France24.com, September 1, 2020.

[6] Le Figaro (France), September 13, 2020. English version: State.gov., September 14, 2020.

https://www.state.gov/france-should-stand-with-freedom-not-tehran/

[7] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), September 1, 2020.

[8] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), September 5, 2020.

[9] These remarks were not in fact reported by Politico. As mentioned above, Macron made remarks to this effect in his August 6, 2020 conversation with Hizbullah representative Mohammed Raad and at his September 1, 2020 press conference in Beirut.

[10] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), September 2, 2020.

[11] Politico.com, September 1, 2020.

[12] English.alarabiya.net, September 3, 2020.

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