Evidence has recently emerged suggesting that the U.S. has opened a line of direct communication with the Lebanese Shia Islamist organization Hezbollah. Details of the contacts have emerged from a variety of sources. Most notably, an article by respected Washington based journalist Hussein Abdul Hussein in the Arabic language newspaper al-Rai contended that the direct contacts are handled by British diplomats, who transfer messages back and forth between Hezbollah and the Americans.
It is worth recalling that the Clinton administration designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 1995. The apparent revival of direct communication with an organization responsible for the killing of 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983 is not taking place in a vacuum. Rather, it is one element of what looks like an attempt at an extremely ambitious, even historic shift currently under way in U.S. regional policy. This is the effort to transform the Islamic Republic of Iran from the West’s main enemy in the Mideast region to a valued ally and partner.
Iran is Hezbollah’s strategic partner in the Middle East. In 2007, Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq played a significant role in the killings of five U.S. Armed Forces soldiers in Iraq. The Iraqi government snubbed Obama in 2012 by releasing Daqduq, who promptly returned to Hezbollah’s militia in Lebanon.
While the U.S. the Netherlands, Israel, and Canada consider Hezbollah to be a monolithic terrorist organization, Britain maintains an entirely fictional distinction between the ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings of Hezbollah. This notion enables its officials to talk to representatives of the ‘political’ wing.
In Abdul Hussein’s article, he notes that the British channel of communication has only recently been revived. He quotes a diplomatic source explaining that the dialogue is “designed to keep pace with the changes in the region and the world, and the potential return of Iran to the international community.”
Another Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Anbaa, also noted that “relations between Hezbollah and the U.S. are developing positively.” The paper cited Lebanese opposition sources in support of this assertion.
It’s noteworthy that the only real and unalloyed enemy in the Middle East whose existence the Obama administration acknowledges is the Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda network. This enemy, of course, is also the adversary of the Iranians.
On a couple of occasions in recent months, Washington appears to have tacitly acknowledged this commonality with the mullah regime. When Hezbollah fighters joined the Lebanese army in battling the Sunni Islamist followers of Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir in the Lebanese town of Sidon in June this year, the U.S. backed the army and made no reference to the key role played by Hezbollah fighters in the action. Similarly, the U.S. condemnation of the recent al-Qaeda linked bombing at the Iranian embassy in Beirut did not contain any reference to the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
All this, it must be said, is deeply bizarre. The Iranians have not changed their regional strategy. Hezbollah remains their main instrument in the Levant and Assad’s Syria their main pathway to it. The murderous tactics they have employed in the Syrian civil war, their virulent hatred of America, and their openly stated ambition to destroy Israel are all plain to see – as is their emerging non-cooperation with the nuclear deal.
America’s Gulf allies just imposed “necessary measures” on Hezbollah, which include new financial and visa sanctions, for its terrorist activity in Syria.
The Obama administration ought to be working to influence a change in the behavior of its European allies to compel the EU to evict Hezbollah from its territory. The EU’s policy mirrors the U.K.’s bogus Hezbollah distinction.
The desire for dialogue with Hezbollah seems to be the latest manifestation of the Obama’s administration’s odd ambition to act against allies and appease obvious and declared enemies in the Middle East. It will not end well.
— Jonathan Spyer is senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (Gloria) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.