VIRGINIA: With the threat of U.S. sanctions and the cutting of military aid to Lebanon, officials in Beirut agreed to release a Lebanese-turned-U.S. citizen who worked for an Israeli proxy in south Lebanon up until 2000.
Conflicting accounts have emerged over who pushed for Amer Fakhoury’s release, accused of one of the biggest crimes in Lebanon - working with the Israeli enemy.
Washington put pressure on the Lebanese government to work for the release of Fakhoury - arrested in September 2019 - from day 1, according to senior Lebanese officials.
“The pressure has been ongoing from the time Schenker and Hale came to Beirut,” one senior political source told The Daily Star. The source was referring to the number two and three officials in the U.S. State Department, David Schenker and David Hale.
According to the source, the Lebanese president’s answer was always: “This is a judicial matter and we will not get involved.”
But pressure was ramped up in Washington when the U.S. Senator in Fakhoury’s hometown of New Hampshire went public with her threats to introduce a bill that would sanction Lebanese officials responsible for Fakhoury’s arrest.
Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, got Ted Cruz, a Republican, to support her quest for sanctions.
Fakhoury is a close friend of Shaheen’s husband, which is why “she took it very personal and went ballistic everywhere,” said an individual who knows both, asking not to be identified.
Although Shaheen has long been an advocate for a strong Lebanese-American relationship, Cruz is more hawkish in his stance to cut aid to Lebanon due to Hezbollah’s presence.
In Washington, the battle was for purely domestic points ahead of what promises to be a tense presidential election period between Republicans and Democrats.
On a global scale, and in Lebanon, many questions are being raised over who pushed for Fakhoury’s release, with few believing that the judiciary itself was not influenced.
Former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, was reported to have played a significant role alongside his father-in-law. Asked about these claims, sources close to both said: “Responsible people did what was in the best [national] interests of Lebanon.
“To reduce it to Bassil being worried about sanctions against him is the lowest kind of political targeting.”
Nevertheless, Bassil was never a target of Shaheen’s potential sanctions bill, a source close to Bassil said.
Three different Lebanese officials admitted that there was fear of U.S. sanctions against Lebanon and the military aid.
One senior Lebanese diplomat denied that Beirut was promised anything in return for the release of Fakhoury. “Better relations and fewer threats [from the U.S.],” the diplomat said.
The diplomat cited President Donald Trump’s remarks early Thursday where he thanked the Lebanese government for cooperating with the U.S. in securing the release of Fakhoury, who was airlifted from the U.S. Embassy in Awkar to an undisclosed location in Europe.
As for Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s stance on the situation, neither side responded when asked for comment.
However, sources close to both parties said that Hezbollah agreed to Fakhoury’s release but was surprised by how swiftly it took place. Hezbollah, in public, called for the resignation of the Military Tribunal judges while Berri’s Amal Movement blasted the decision.
“They [all Lebanese sides] wanted this resolved,” quickly, a senior Lebanese official said.