Macron condemns journalist for reporting Hezbollah meeting

Macron has been criticized for his comments to Malbrunot. Madine Moreno, a former French government minister condemned the comments.

FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos showing French President Emmanuel Macron attending a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2017, and Iran President Hassan Rouhani looking on at the Campidoglio palace in Rome, Italy, January 25, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS/PHILIPPE WOJAZER/ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/FILE PHOTOS)
FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos showing French President Emmanuel Macron attending a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2017, and Iran President Hassan Rouhani looking on at the Campidoglio palace in Rome, Italy, January 25, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS/PHILIPPE WOJAZER/ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/FILE PHOTOS)
French President Emmanuel Macron slammed a journalist for reporting on a “sensitive” meeting with a Hezbollah member of Lebanon’s parliament. He accused Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot of irresponsibly reporting on a sensitive subject that affects Lebanon. Although Macron said he defended the journalist's rights, he maintained that the report was unprofessional.
The controversy began on August 31 with the report that Macron had met Hezbollah member of parliament Mohammed Raad. The report said that it was unprecedented for a French president to meet with a Hezbollah official in this manner. Macron has made two trips to Lebanon since a massive explosion at the port of Lebanon killed more than 150 people. France, the former Mandate era power that controlled Lebanon has long historical, cultural and religious ties to the country. Macron has emphasized the need for a reform of the politics in Lebanon in the wake of the massive blast.  
Macron has been criticized for his comments to Malbrunot. Madine Moreno, a former French government minister condemned the comments. Others said it appeared to be a step to far in attacking freedom of the press. Macron, in his comments, said it was important to be frank about the sensitivity of these issues given Lebanon’s history. Macron’s comments were highlighted in Turkey where the Turkish leader has been a harsh critic of the French President. Turkish social media accounts said Macron was being hypocritical.  
Raad is the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary group in parliament. He has been a key political figure for the group since the 1990s and is also welcomed in Iran. He has said Hezbollah will not be strong armed and that foreign states should not pressure Lebanon. He has also bragged about Iran’s “axis of resistance” against Israel and the US. Raad is not considered particularly interesting according to leaked diplomatic cables. He is said to live modestly and have brokered deals with other parties in the past. In 2009 he told a source that Hezbollah would not “give Israel the pleasure of leading it to war on their timing.” 
Macron, in his earlier meetings with Raad, told the Hezbollah member, according to the reports, that Hezbollah should prove that it is Lebanese. “Everyone knows you have an Iranian agenda. We know your history very well…do you want to help the Lebanese, yes or no?” Macron encouraged Hezbollah to leave Syria and stop its involvement abroad. Hezbollah sent forces to Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2012 and has increased its role there. This has also led to increased tensions with Israel. Last year Israel killed two members of a Hezbollah drone team near the Golan border. Another Hezbollah member was killed in July this year which had led to more tensions and two incidents along the Lebanese border.  
The Le Figaro report received widespread attention. Macron has defended his decision to meet with Hezbollah and thus give them a role in the future government. Hezbollah has largely held the Lebanese government hostage since 2008 clashes in Beirut. It was momentarily weakened after killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 and after a 2006 war with Israel. However it now has an ally in President Michel Aoun. Lebanese politics is divided on political and sectarian line so Hezbollah has a right to contest elections for Shi’ite seats in Parliament. It is not the largest Shi’ite party but its arsenal of 150,000 rockets and its ability to blackmail other parties through alliances have given it a hold over the government. Gulf allies of the Sunni politician Saad Hariri have often expressed concern over Hezbollah’s growing role. Turkey is also trying to muscle into Lebanon by pushing groups linked to Sunni religious groups.  
Reports at The Arab Weekly asserted that Macron was pushing for a non-sectarian government that was more technocratic and would thus not include Hezbollah. A new Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib is supposed to help with that. This concept of a technocratic government has been pushed in Iraq as well, but generally pro-Iranian groups find their way into the government anyway or intimidate people on the streets.  
The meeting with Hezbollah and spotlight on Macron’s role in Lebanon now is becoming more controversial. The comments to the journalist appear to show how seriously the French President takes the role he has placed on his shoulders. These are tense times for Lebanon. Israel has expressed concern about precision guided munitions being trafficked to Hezbollah. In addition Lebanon needs some $93 billion to bail out its economy. Hezbollah has also threatened retaliation against Israel. Questions linger over responsibility for the ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut. The US recently airlifted a dissident out of Lebanon and Hezbollah slammed the US ambassador earlier this year. There are questions about how much longer the US will help support the Lebanese armed forces and how much longer the UNIFIL mission will continue to be renewed. While US Central Command has acknowledged Hezbollah’s existence in Lebanon the US views the group as a terrorist threat. A UN-backed investigation recently gave a verdict that found one Hezbollah member guilty of involvement in killing Hariri. The sheer number of problems therefore appears insurmountable. It is in this context that Macron became heated in his exchange with Malbrunot.