The Emirati newspaper, “The National” – quoting sources with knowledge of US plans – reports that the United States is considering sanctions against the Shia Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, along with a number of his financial supporters. Well-informed sources knowledgeable of the Speaker’s intentions said that “such a step – if it is serious and not just an empty threat – will lead to the forceful exit of all US forces from Lebanon, particularly those training and embedded with the Lebanese Army and other security forces. This step will also be taken against all US government-linked organisations by a clear decision of the Lebanese parliament as retaliation against aggressive decisions adopted by the US establishment”.
The sources say that “Speaker Nabih Berri does not enjoy the support of the AMAL movement or Hezbollah and their respective members of Parliament and Ministers, but he does enjoy the support of the majority of Lebanese MPs. It is they who have elected him over decades. Therefore, any US step against the Speaker or AMAL’s supporters in Lebanon or Africa or anywhere in the world with the aim to hit Berri indirectly will be met with the same retaliation in Lebanon against the US presence in the country. Berri has a wide circle of friends among Muslim speakers and the presidents of parliament in GCC and Muslim African countries, who are ready to stand with him against the US establishment. The reaction is expected to be harsher and more visible than the Arab states’ merely verbal condemnation of Israel annexation of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem”.
In fact, during Pompeo’s recent visit to Lebanon, the US official did not find any political party, even among his closest Lebanese allies, willing to stand against Hezbollah.
“Berri is an emblematic Shia figure in Lebanon, well-known to European, American and Arab diplomats, politicians, and personalities. If the US establishment adopts measures against the Speaker, it will be faced with a parliamentary law which will open the country for Iran and Russia to establish military, intelligence and security collaboration with Lebanon and to establish static military bases in the country. The only US institutions that can be expected to remain in the country after such a move would be the Embassy and the University and nothing else”, said the source, indicating the seriousness and readiness of the Speaker to retaliate against any US decision in relation to him or his entourage.
Such a step can only mean the US pushing Lebanon towards political turmoil and instability for years to come.
But Lebanese President Michel Aoun went beyond Berri in supporting Hezbollah. It is true that the Speaker told his guest the US Secretary Mike Pompeo during last month’s visit to Lebanon that “he (Berri) is the father of the resistance and the one who initiated it against Israel”. Nevertheless, President Aoun went to Moscow to strike a military deal with Russia, professed full support for the Russian plan to see all Syrian refugees returning to Syria, and told Pompeo that he fully supports the Resistance (Hezbollah). Aoun ended all this by offering an exceptionally warm welcome to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza at the Baabda presidential palace, to the displeasure of the US establishment, currently engaged in a frenetic regime-change campaign against President Maduro.
In fact, during Pompeo’s recent visit to Lebanon, the US official did not find any political party, even among his closest Lebanese allies, willing to stand against Hezbollah. Moreover, none of the Lebanese security forces’ leaders Pompeo met in Lebanon were ready to stand against Hezbollah, which has become part of the legislative, executive and security apparatus of the country.
If the US threat to Berri is serious, it appears that the current US establishment is intent on shooting itself in the foot and ending its presence in the Levant. In this part of the world, the US is not looked at favourably. In Syria it is considered an occupation force. In Iraq, Iraqi officials are divided between those eager to see the last US soldier leave the country and others keen to maintain a regulated and limited military collaboration with the US establishment. Moreover, the recent “gifts” offered by President Trump to Israeli prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu – i.e. Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – antagonised the Arab population and the Palestinians who no longer consider the US a partner in any future peace talks.
Yes, there are members of AMAL – Berri’s group – who hold US citizenship and enjoy good relationships with some US officials; these members are trying to ease the relationship. Simultaneously, the Speaker has already in place, at the ready, gradual measures to be implemented against the US in Lebanon, in the event that Washington is willing to implement its threat. This will become apparent if the threat is indeed a serious one; so far no US official has confirmed Washington’s intentions towards the Lebanese Speaker.
Berri’s recent visits to Iraq, where he met with top officials and religious leaders led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani, showed the extent of his contacts and connections. By visiting Iraq, the Lebanese Speaker sent a message to the US, showing his leadership of a Shia group that is not limited to Lebanon. Therefore, it is up to the US to measure its steps and refrain from sending menacing messages that it is actually unwilling to fulfill. If the threats are real, the US must prepare for the consequences. The ball – according to this source – is now in Trump’s court.
Cover photo: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut on March 22, 2019.