The Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah has served its Iranian masters well. It has murdered Americans and Israelis. More recently Syrian Sunni-Muslims, and Christians have been its victims. Hezbollah has done the killings on behalf of the Ayatollahs in Tehran, and the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. In recent months however, it has taken several blows from Israel. Israeli strikes thwarted missile deliveries from Syria to its Lebanese bases. There is also growing global condemnation of its activities and an increasing designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. i24TV reported on February 27, 2019 that the, “United Kingdom has officially labeled Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in its entirety, as opposed to just its military wing, as some European powers have.” In the period spanning December, 2018 to January, 2019, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Northern Shield. In this operation, the IDF exposed and neutralized Hezbollah’s extended cross-border tunnel network. Six tunnels were destroyed and shut down, with all of them violating international law, specifically, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. In late May, 2019, the IDF uncovered the longest and most significant of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels. This latest tunnel was nearly a mile long, 22 stories deep, and stretched more than 250 feet into Israeli territory.
These events deflated Hezbollah’s claims to be the guardian of Lebanese security. Although it dominates the Lebanese government, its excesses have now opened a stream of criticism against its machinations over the border and existing complaints about its role in Syria. In a few weeks from now, American sponsored talks between Israeli and Lebanese officials will commence in Naqoura, on the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Lebanese border. The talks will focus on the maritime boundaries between the two countries, and the future of the gas deposits in the area. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David M. Satterfield, have been shuttling between Israel and Lebanon to settle the dispute between the two parties, with the hope of strengthening the Beirut government, and weakening Hezbollah’s grip on power in Lebanon. The mere fact that Lebanese officials will be meeting their Israeli counterparts face to face is a significant American accomplishment. It is also indicative of the U.S. increasing influence in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Daily Star reported on June 4th, 2019 that, “Among the bridging ideas put forward by both sides was for international energy groups, operating in both Israeli and Lebanese waters, to carry out first a seismological survey of the disputed area.” Israel and Lebanon have been at least formally at war since the re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. The two countries have long disagreed on the border demarcations in the eastern Mediterranean, an issue that has become more acute in the last decade when large deposits of natural gas were found there. The Daily Star also reported that “Lebanese lawmakers close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (leader of the Shiite Amal party) quoted him as saying there was ‘clear progress’ on the efforts to resolve the border dispute.”
Both Lebanon’s Christian President Michel Aoun, and Speaker Nabih Berri, who is also in a close relationship with Hezbollah, are cognizant of the economic benefits Lebanon would derive from resolving the dispute with Israel and producing gas. Lebanon’s Sunni-Muslim Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has likewise endorsed the talks with Israel under U.S. mediation. Hariri is committed to removing Lebanon from regional conflicts, and as such, he has been critical of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, and its stirring of troubles with Israel. Clearly, Lebanon’s weak economy is in dire need of a boost, and income from the gas fields, which might alleviate its chronic economic crisis. The fact that Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has shown little resistance to the American mediation and open talks with Israel, indicates that despite its electoral gains in the last elections, its influence in Lebanon is declining.
The U.S. is currently arming and training the Lebanese armed forces, and it is therefore in a much better position to pressure the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah, and thus drastically weakening the terror group. The Lebanese government will have to decide whether it is an independent state or a subsidiary of Hezbollah, and controlled by Iran. If the Lebanese government declines to do so, then the U.S. can exercise the option of boycotting Lebanon, and those doing business with it. Although the Shiites are the largest sect in Lebanon, they are not the majority. When Christians, Sunnis, and Druse combine forces, they can overwhelm the Shiites and form a majority. Even among Shiites, there are those who oppose Hezbollah, and who fear like the rest of the Lebanese, that the terrorist group might drag Lebanon into a war with Israel, resulting in destruction for the Land of the Cedars. The 2006 war with Israel is a somber reminder of what can happen to Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s war in Syria has cost it thousands of casualties. The organization paying pensions to its retirees and the families of those killed in Syria, has put the organization under a major financial strain. Moreover, U.S. sanctions on Iran has forced the Islamic Republic to cut its financial outlays to Hezbollah. Hezbollah officials were targeted by the U.S. in February, 2018. The Voice of America News reported that the U.S. “imposed sanctions” on seven businesses and six people associated with Hezbollah, aiming to disrupt the terror organization. Unlike the situation with Iran, where the U.S. and its European allies disagree on the nuclear deal, the same European nations are more than likely to back the U.S. on the demand to disarm Hezbollah. Also, unlike in Syria, where Russia has a strategic interest in backing Iran, it does not exist when it comes to Lebanon.
Al-Jazeera reported (May 23, 2019) that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a meeting with Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, warned that “Lebanon faces a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future.” He also pointed out that last year, while the U.S. provided the Lebanese people with $800 million in aid, Iran has only given to the Hezbollah (not to the Lebanese people) $700 million.
According to Lebanese-native, Joseph Hakim, President of the International Christian Union, “the first thing that the U.S. should demand of the Lebanese government is to implement fairly the Taif Agreement, which called on all armed militias to disband, including Hezbollah. While all other militias disarmed, Hezbollah, under the pretext of defending Lebanon, did not. This must change. Hakim added “Hezbollah is bound to hijack the revenue flowing from the gas fields.”
The recent Israeli operation to destroy the tunnels into Israel that Hezbollah built over years with large investments in cash and manpower, weakened the terror organization. The U.S. must now press the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah, and allow the Lebanese army, which the U.S. equips and trains, to be the sole defense force for Lebanon. The Lebanese people, in the words of Mike Pompeo, have a choice to make.