The Lebanese Armed Forces Won't Disarm Hezbollah
The next move the U.S. has to make.
The Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah has been in control of Lebanon for some time now. With the strong support it receives from Iran and the Assad regime, Hezbollah has been able to control the Lebanese parliament, the office of the Presidency (Michel Aoun, though a Christian, is a tool in Hezbollah’s hands), and thus controls the government. However, not everything is going well for Hezbollah, and its General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. The recent demonstrations in Lebanon over the deteriorating economic conditions in the country, included a call to strip Hezbollah of its large military arsenal. The protesters called for, among other things, the implementation of the 2004 UN Security Council resolution 1559, which called on all Lebanese militias to disband. All the sectarian militias indeed disbanded except for Hezbollah. In 2020, Hezbollah’s missile arsenal and its other arms overshadows and overpowers the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
In Washington, U.S. military assistance to the Lebanese army is being debated. Many are arguing that the LAF has declined to act in its role as the sole and legitimate defender of Lebanese sovereignty. In fact, to be the sole defender of Lebanese sovereignty requires the LAF to disarm Hezbollah, which the LAF has been reluctant to do. Moreover, Hezbollah deployment along the border with Israel, and its provocative actions, including its offensive tunnel building into Israeli territory, is considered by other Lebanese confessional groups as potentially dragging Lebanon into an unwanted war with Israel. Some in the U.S. policymaking circles have raised the fear that should the U.S. withdraw its aid to Lebanon, Iran and Russia would fill the void. But Iran is currently experiencing its own economic crisis due to the U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus, and it is in no position to replace the U.S. aid.
In the meantime, a bipartisan group of key lawmakers in the U.S. Congress called on the Trump administration to implement a stringent sanctions package on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime. The chairmen of the Foreign Affairs (House) and Foreign Relations (Senate) committees, U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Senators James Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), joined forces to issue the statement ahead of the June 17, 2020 deadline to implement the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which became law in December, 2019. The Caesar Act, “Holds accountable those responsible for the widespread death of civilians and for numerous atrocities including the use of chemical weapons and other barbaric weapons.” The law provides for “Sanctions and travel restrictions on those members of the Assad regime, in addition to international enablers who have been responsible for, or complicit in serious human rights abuses in Syria.” Hezbollah and Iran’s other Shiite militia proxies have been responsible, along with the Assad regime, in killing most of the 400,000 Syrians, and displacing 11.6 million Syrians (both external and internal refugees).
A BBC News headline on February 18, 2013 announced, “Hezbollah condemned for attack on Syrian villages. The same article reported that, “Lebanese officials have accused Hezbollah’s military wing, the Islamic Resistance, of fighting in Syria, while the U.S. says Hezbollah provides training, advice, and logistical support to the Syrian military.” U.S. officials informed the UN Security Council (UNSC) back in October, 2012, that Nasrallah’s fighters are now part of Assad’s killing machine. Since 2013, Hezbollah has been a major fighting force in Syria that coordinated its attacks with the Assad regime. Therefore, the Caesar Act applies directly to Hezbollah as a major enabler along with Iran and Russia.
For the Lebanese government, the Caesar Act may increase further economic hardship. The government controlled by Hezbollah is unlikely to act in any way that might hinder Hezbollah’s interests. Yet, another problem the Beirut government faces has to do with private roads Hezbollah constructed adjacent to the border with Israel. Hezbollah is currently denying access to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to use these roads. The UNSC is due to decide in late August, 2020, on extending the UNIFIL mandate. The U.S. and Israel are intent on changing the status-quo and have the UNSC Resolution 1701 fully implemented. The Resolution requires the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, that there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state, meaning the LAF.
According to the U.S. State Department, since 2006, the U.S. has invested more than $2 billion in the LAF, which enabled the Lebanese army to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Lebanon, carry out operations against Al Qaeda, and reassert control over Lebanese territory along its border with Syria. One can argue, however, that the LAF was simply doing Hezbollah’s bidding in fighting ISIS, which Hezbollah was already engaged in fighting. The U.S. government has $1.4 billion in active government-to-government sales with Lebanon under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system. FMS sales notification to Congress included Six A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft (delivered in June, 2018), Huey II helicopters, AGM-114 Hellfire and TOW 2A missiles.
It is clear that the U.S. cannot go on supporting the LAF while Iran, through Hezbollah, is controlling the Lebanese government. Iran, in essence, is being allowed access to Lebanon’s border with Israel. The U.S. expects the LAF to use American aid first and foremost to serve as the “sole” and “legitimate” defender of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Without disarming Hezbollah, the LAF cannot be the “sole” or “legitimate” defender of Lebanon’s sovereignty. In fact, Iran through Hezbollah is infringing upon Lebanon’s sovereignty with impunity. Nor is the LAF strengthening the border security with Israel, by allowing Hezbollah to operate freely along the Israeli border. The LAF is also supposed to interdict arms shipments, which have been coming to Lebanon from Iran via Damascus, totally unopposed by the LAF. An arsenal of 150,000 rockets has been built by Iran for Hezbollah. The LAF has moreover, coordinated operations with Hezbollah, an organization the U.S. has listed as a terrorist organization.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies described Hezbollah as the “world’s most heavily armed non-state actor, with a large and diverse stockpile of unguided artillery rockets, as well as ballistic, antiair, antitank, and antiship missiles.
Joseph Hakim, a Lebanese native, and President of the International Christian Union, pointed out that, “The Lebanese governments in power following the Taif Agreement, refused to follow its directives, and disarm the Hezbollah as other militias did.” Hakim added, “The Iranian regime ordered Assad to force the Hezbollah upon the Lebanese people, and these days, there are no Lebanese leaders calling for the disarming of Hezbollah.”
The LAF provided uniforms to Hezbollah fighters. The two groups also conduct joint patrols. Photos on the LAF website show Hezbollah fighters driving American-made armored vehicles decorated with Lebanese and Hezbollah flags. Hezbollah and the LAF are no longer separate entities. The U.S. military aid and training it provides to the LAF is simply benefiting Hezbollah and their Iranian masters. The U.S. should therefore consider defunding the LAF.
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Photo credit: YouTube screen shot