Jeffrey Feltman’s Last Words: Isolate Hezbollah

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Jeffrey D. Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, speaks during a news conference at the government palace in Beirut. (Photo: REUTERS - Mohamed Azakir)

By: Nasser Charara

Published Monday, July 9, 2012

March 14 grabbed the opportunity of the disagreement between Michel Aoun and Hezbollah and they welcomed him with open arms. However, the move is not seen as a sudden change of heart by the Lebanese opposition towards the rebellious General, but more as adhering to a pre-planned strategy.

During the last three visits of the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Lebanon, there was one message that he stressed to his allies in March 14. His administration had one item on the agenda for Lebanon, isolating Hezbollah politically.

Many of those who attended the meeting still remember Feltman’s words to March 14 figures in head of Future Movement Saad Hariri’s home, during his first visit following the formation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government.

During the meeting, Feltman elaborated his theory and gave specific examples concerning its implementation. It was a new objective for the participants, so he used the session to expound on his ideas.

He reiterated the issue in his following visit and explained that it will be the new action plan. In this session, some of the participants, according to someone who was present, indicated the need for Washington’s support.

They wanted to topple what they called “Hezbollah’s government in Lebanon and appoint their own government, to prevent the party from controlling all aspects of the state.”

Feltman response was that “the return of March 14 to government will not offer anything new and that what is needed is adherence to the plan of isolating Hezbollah.” He pointed out that his recent trips to several of Washington’s Arab allies showed that there is no desire for a return to a March 14 government.

Feltman explained the vision Washington and its Arab and non-Arab allies had adopted to execute the strategy of isolating Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“The party should not have any allies in Lebanon. We must upset its goals and contain them internally. This way we can avoid a confrontation which would destabilize the country. The only thing that March 14 needs to do, is to facilitate the operation and engage in political tactics leading to its achievement,” he said.

He continued explaining until he mentioned what participants called “the bombshell in his proposal.” He said he believed “Hezbollah is surrounded by opportunistic and fragile alliances, which can easily be dismantled.”

He indicated that Washington will open up to all Lebanese political sides in this phase, as part of the Hezbollah isolation tactic. It will clearly hint to the party’s allies that the US will keep its doors open, in case they decide to bail out of the sinking ship due to the inevitability of the fall of its strategic ally in Syria.

“We will even hint this to [the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)] General Michel Aoun. March 14 must be ready to catch him if he decides to break his political alliance with Hezbollah and join your side. This can be under the elections banner or in case of a realignment in opposition to his memorandum of understanding with the party,” Feltman told the jaded attendees.

March 14’s various components, especially the Christians, left the meeting disappointed. They expected Feltman to announce the good news of their imminent return to power, but he told them that they should reward Aoun and attract him to their side.

“Is it reasonable that we made sacrifices for US goals in Lebanon and now Feltman comes and says he is ready to reward Aoun out of our stake in power, in the case that he decides to politically distance himself from Hezbollah?” one of them asked.

A prominent Christian authority who has a personal vendetta against Aoun commented on Feltman’s statements, saying that “if the general came to our side, we cannot shut the door in his face.”

At the time, some started calling the theory to isolate Hezbollah inside Lebanon the “Feltman doctrine.” They relayed two elements that he proposed. The first is working on creating the environment to isolate the Shia party. The second is related to dismantling its alliances and working towards isolating Hezbollah internally.

The part about creating the conditions for isolating the party aimed to attract Aoun in the first degree, and not [Druze leader] Walid Jumblatt.

There was no need for a confrontation between Aoun and [leader of Hezbollah] Hassan Nasrallah. Feltman knew the extent of the relationship between the two men. He did not want to ask Aoun to take the position of [Lebanese Forces commander] Samir Geagea concerning the resistance and Hezbollah, since this is an issue that will not be solved internally.

What he needed was to move Aoun into a different political environment that would ensure his interests and away from Hezbollah’s environment. This transformation would be through several steps.

The main one would be creating political circumstances in the country which would make Aoun realize that his political interests lie on the other side and that he would be strangled politically if he stuck to his position.

Today, a figure knowledgeable about the so-called “Feltman doctrine” recalls that Aoun had warned that the Mikati government is working against the interests of March 8. Nevertheless, his allies decided to take the path of long-winded patience due to regional considerations.

Aoun is beginning to realize that if he ran in the 2013 parliamentary elections on his current slogans, he will not gain the majority of Christian votes and might even record a significant decline.

This is due to the accumulation of mistakes made by his partners in the government. Some were done intentionally by sides inside the government who want to undermine March 8’s reputation.

The situation that Aoun sees himself in did not occur out of the blue. It was due to the application of the theory of “creating the circumstances” that would enable the isolation of Hezbollah.

One of the most prominent practices to create the circumstances to isolate Aoun and force him to realign himself outside March 8, is keeping the flow of Gulf money to the Lebanese Forces out of all of the March 14 sides.

The objective is to strengthen the popularity of Geagea electorally among Christians. This would create an electoral problem for Aoun and make him realize that the only way out is by recreating the conditions of the 2005 elections.

Back then, he raised the slogan of the Christian challenge to the four-sided Muslim alliance, describing it as an alignment that would marginalize the Christians politically. This slogan won him a landslide victory in the Christian arena.

By taking the applications of Feltman’s doctrine into consideration, the same figure notes that it is no longer surprising to see Christian forces – who had an iron wall between them and Aoun – ignore their vendettas and back him in his position on the electrical contract workers’ issue.

They want to insinuate that they accept his return to his role in the 2005 elections against the other side that contains the Shia duo, especially Hezbollah. This is the objective of Feltman’s doctrine to isolate the party.

A security source familiar with the international background to Lebanese events, reported to a political figure two weeks ago that what Lebanon is witnessing “is like a small revolution. It is not clear against whom, but it is not innocent.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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