U.S. Congress set to turn up the heat on Lebanon

February 9, 2022 - 21:40

TEHRAN – A U.S. congressman has drafted a bill on Lebanon that aims to significantly increase pressure on the Lebanese leadership and political system.

In its Monday edition, the Tehran Times revealed that Senator James Lankford is spearheading efforts at the U.S. Congress to draw up some legislation on the situation in Lebanon that would direct the U.S. administration to refrain from supporting assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Lebanon until needed reforms are made in the Arab country.

The Tehran Time can now reveal that the bill, officially called the “Lebanon Stability and Prosperity Act” includes an array of aggressive measures against Lebanon’s politicians and political system.

The bill comes at a time when Lebanon continues to grapple with a sea of economic hardships of historical proportions. Since the 2020 destructive blast at Beirut Port, Lebanon’s economy has been in tailspin. The country’s national currency, lira, lost much of its value against U.S. dollar. 

Lebanon is also in the throes of a silent political crisis, with many political factions racked by concerns about their political fortunes going into the next elections which are scheduled for this year’s May 15.

The U.S. seems to have seen an opportunity in the parliamentary elections to achieve the desired political change in Lebanon. This may be the reason why U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea has emphasized the holding of the elections on time. 

“The international community is unanimous that the elections must be held on time in a fair and transparent manner,” Shea told Reuters. “There's no wiggle room.”

The importance of the elections to the U.S. is evident in the Lankford bill which calls on the U.S. government to actively draw up a list of Lebanese nationals including government officials who are thought to be “significantly obstructing or undermining” the elections. 

Aside from the elections, the bill also pushes for a host of other measures in Lebanon that could well end up upsetting the country’s delicate power-sharing system. For instance, the bill stipulates that the U.S secretaries of state and defense are authorized to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces with the purpose of countering Hezbollah.

This is while Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. 

In other words, Hezbollah is part and parcel of Lebanon’s religiopolitical composition. And using one Lebanese faction to target or undermine another Lebanese faction would hardly serve stability and prosperity in Lebanon.

The bill seems to be designed to put Hezbollah in the crosshairs. It stipulates that the U.S. secretary of state should do an array of measures to “undercut the influence of Hezbollah.”

To this end, it calls on the secretary of state to work toward resolving border disputes between Beirut and Tel Aviv including the Blue Line demarcation line and the disputed maritime boundary in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The bill goes as far as to call on the secretary of state to encourage the Lebanese government to normalize relations with Israel.

In parallel, the bill calls on the U.S. to use its influence over the IMF as leverage to force reforms in Lebanon. Since September last year, the Lebanese government has been engaged in a process with the IMF to take out a multibillion loan. 

But the assistance has been conditioned on Lebanon making reforms. The bill lays out the circumstances under which the U.S. would approve the IMF loan to Lebanon. It instructs the U.S. Department of the Treasury to use its influence over the international organization to extract a commitment from the Lebanese government to implement needed reforms before supporting the disbursement of financial assistance.

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