Did Obama Ignore Hezbollah to Secure the Iran Deal?

Hezbollah fighters put Lebanese and Hezbollah flags at Juroud Arsal, Syria-Lebanon border

Old ideological foes are lining up on opposite sides of the emerging debate.

Meyer, Ottolenghi and FDD push back on such accusations. Meyer e-mails that is “flat wrong to say there is ANY political agenda on my part, as there is, and never has been, one” and takes umbrage with the contention he is part of some anti-Iran “cabal,” as he put termed it. “I was the one who originated the idea of doing this story, in consultation with sources, including former DEA officials who had read” his previous work. “It’s the same technique they use when we were criticizing the Iran deal,” Ottolenghi tells me. “They labeled us and anyone who criticized the deal as warmongers. They’re basically trying to paint anyone suggesting an alternative path as leading us towards war.”

Here’s what that alternative path could have looked like for FDD: “I think it would have looked like a much more aggressive tool and effective tool, to dismantle -- or to disrupt -- illicit finance from the drug trade, and counterfeited goods, and illegal timber trading, and illicit trading  in Africa and God knows what else these Hezbollah guys are doing. … It would have cut down, significantly, the amount of funding for Hezbollah. … The main purpose of these networks is to raise money,” says Ottolenghi. Perhaps this is what those like Bannon have in mind.

But others, especially on the Trumpist right that supported the president during the campaign, think the Hezbollah issue is blown out of proportion. “I think there’s substantial consensus that Hezbollah is a sort of state within a state of Lebanon, confessionally divided with weak central government. It pretty much owes its existence to Israel’s serial invasions of Lebanon, and began as a local national resistance movement,” Scott McConnell, founding editor of The American Conservative, tells me. “Can be a very problematic group… but what we typically call Shi’ite terrorism more resembles what the IRA did, well organized strikes against political or military targets, than more random suicide strikes at civilians on the AL Qaeda or ISIS model. They’re a problem for Israel because unlike every other Arab army I can think of, they’ve fought quite effectively against Israelis, though always outgunned and outmanned.”

Ottolenghi, and the FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer, have warned about “the coming war with Israel and Hezbollah.”

Former Obama CIA director and homeland security advisor John Brennan also compared Hezbollah to the Irish Republican Army.

Ottolenghi mounts his pushback, and rejects the proposition there are sectors of Hezbollah the U.S. can reasonably work with: “Look, there were gradations within the Nazi Party,” but at the end of the day, with Hezbollah, we’re looking at “shades of grey.” And he notes -- “by the way” -- the jury is still out on the IRA, as well.

NOTE: This piece has been updated since first being published. 

Curt Mills is a foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @CurtMills.

Image: Reuters

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