Photo Credit: US State Dept.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lebanon's Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri at Grand Serail, Beirut (Feb. 15 2018)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri in talks at the Grand Serail in Beirut on Thursday that Washington supports “a free, democratic Lebanon, free of the influence of others… We know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future,” he said.

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But Hariri didn’t seem to get the message.

The Lebanese prime minister who insists his Future party is so intent on his nation maintaining independence from Hezbollah, instead blamed Israel for difficulties along the country’s southern border. Hariri claimed during a joint presser with Tillerson after their talks, “Lebanon is committed to Security Council Resolution 1701 and 2373. We want to move to a state of permanent ceasefire, but Israel’s daily violation of our sovereignty hinders that process, as does Israel’s escalating rhetoric. “This needs to stop,” he said, adding, “Lebanon’s southern border is the calmest border in the Middle East, and I asked Secretary Tillerson to help keep it that way.”

The day before his arrival in Beirut, Tillerson noted in talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II that the United States knows “Hezbollah is part of the ‘political process’ in Lebanon.”

Responding to questions from reporters in Beirut, Tillerson commented, “Lebanon has been under enormous pressure. We are engaging with the governments of both Lebanon and Israel to ensure Lebanon’s southern border remains calm.

“It is unacceptable for a militia like Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government. The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

Tillerson said Hezbollah is “not just a concern for the United States; the people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions and its growing arsenal bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon.” Hezbollah’s entanglement in regional conflicts “threatens the security of Lebanon and has destabilizing effects in the region,” he added.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.