Not a word was heard from U.S. President Donald Trump during the recent Temple Mount crisis in Jerusalem. Instead, he made do with a phone call to the King of Jordan once the crisis had ended, thanking him for his contribution to calming the flames. While the crisis still raged, Trump allowed his representatives to act as they saw fit, concocting a compromise agreement that has succeeded, for the time being, in removing the Temple Mount issue from the top of Israeli and Palestinian agendas, not to mention that of Jordan.
Trump chose to focus instead on another more urgent issue in his view. During his meeting last week at the White House with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Trump devoted his remarks — which were also at the expense of a focus on his own domestic problems with senior U.S. officials — on the two organizations that the U.S. and its allies are battling: the Islamic State, the future of which is now a thing of the past and whose threat to regional stability is diminishing, and Hezbollah, described by Trump as a terrorist organization that posed a danger to Lebanon and the entire Middle East.
It is safe to assume that the Lebanese prime minister agrees with Trump and considers Hezbollah a dangerous adversary and even a threat. He of all people should be familiar with the group, as his late father, former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, was killed by Hezbollah in February 2005. However, Lebanon being Lebanon, where the wonders of reality always surpass the realms of imagination, Hariri Junior found himself at the White House defending Hezbollah, with whom he had formed a government and in which several members of the terrorist organization serve as ministers. Nonetheless, Hariri did not come to the White House to advance the war on terror, certainly not with regard to Hezbollah. On the contrary, he came to persuade the American administration to ease the economic pressure it exerts on Lebanon as a consequence of Hezbollah’s presence on its soil.
The U.S. administration imposed severe restrictions that could nearly destroy Lebanon’s banking industry, as every bank that houses an account for, or transfers money to, a Hezbollah member or one of the many charities affiliated with the organization is at risk for U.S. boycott.
Evidence suggests that Hariri succeeded in his mission. Following his denouncement of Hezbollah, Trump turned to praise Lebanon and its efforts to combat terror and even promised to continue U.S. support for the Lebanese military — the same military that works hand in hand with Hezbollah, including along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
It’s not a surprise that Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah is pleased. Only hours after Trump had criticized the group in the White House, Nasrallah proclaimed at a rally in Lebanon that, under the cover of the recent Russian-Iranian blitz in Syria, Hezbollah had successfully expelled the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front from the Arsal district on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Nasrallah refrained from mentioning either Trump's statements or the meeting he had held with senior Russian officials who met to discuss the future of the indirect partnership between Hezbollah and the Russians.
The issue, however, is not Nasrallah but Trump. The American president began his term on the right track with the dramatic U.S. attack on Syria in April that gained him much praise. But subsequent U.S. actions have been far less impressive. In fact, they are altogether unimpressive. Trump sold out the Syrian rebels, ending the aid they had been receiving from the U.S. and sealing a deal with Russia allowing Syrian President Bashar Assad to maintain his seat of power — as strong as ever — and worse yet, consenting to increased Iranian presence in Syria.
In his meeting with the Lebanese prime minister, Trump confirmed his intention to maintain support for Lebanon’s army. To his credit, there is a possibility that he is simply unaware that every dollar he gives Lebanon, any relief to its banking system and any weapons that reach Lebanon’s army will also serve Hezbollah.
Firm statements by the U.S. president are certainly important. But the actions he takes are no less important, and thus far, none are in view on the horizon.
Obama abandoned the Middle East to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah out of weakness. Trump is now doing the same as a result of his confidence in a Russian-American partnership — a partnership the price of which will be paid by America’s allies in the region, Israel included.