Trump trips up over claims Lebanon on 'frontline' against Hezbollah
Donald Trump has raised eyebrows with his claim during a visit by the Lebanese prime minister that Beirut was in the frontline of the fight against Hezbollah - despite the movement's leading role in the government of Lebanon.
Trump, in a joint press conference on Tuesday alongside Saad al-Hariri, said the Shia movement was a threat to the entire Middle East.
But Trump's claim that Lebanon was “on the front lines” in the fight against Hezbollah caused commentators to question the president's grasp of Lebanese politics.
The armed group and political party has representation in Lebanon’s parliament and holds significant sway within the governing coalition.
“Threats to the Lebanese people come from inside as well. Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” Trump said, adding that the group’s increasing military arsenal could lead to a conflict with US ally Israel.
Following Trump's comments, Hariri, who leads the Sunni March 14 party in Lebanon's sectarian-based political system, pointed out that Hezbollah was in the government. "We have good dialogue with Hezbollah. They are in the parliament,” said Hariri to reporters.
The US has long condemned the group, and it has been a designated foreign terrorist organisation by the US since 1997.
Whilst the group is Lebanese, it is strongly backed by Iran, and its political wing is very influential within the country.
Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, is a known ally of Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Hariri was visiting Washington DC to lobby for more economic support, as Lebanon currently houses nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Trump’s comments have raised questions over his understanding of foreign policy, and what appears to be a lack of understanding of Hezbollah’s role both in Lebanon and in the region.
Social media users were quick to highlight Trump’s mistake
Lebanon’s parliament swore in a cabinet in December which was dominated by Hezbollah and its allies. In Lebanon, the cabinet is the country’s executive authority, with more power than the president, prime minister and parliament.
When asked a follow up question on his position towards US sanctions on Hezbollah, Trump said he would be making his position “very clear” in the next 24 hours.
“I have meetings with some of my very expert military representatives and others,” Trump added.
Trump’s comments were met with silence from Hariri, who later told reporters that Trump was "well-informed" about Hezbollah during their meeting, the Washington Post reported.
“In Lebanon we are fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda. Hezbollah we have, you know, in the government. And we have an understanding with Hezbollah,” Hariri said.
“It is important to have this consensus. We have good dialogue with Hezbollah. They are in the parliament.”