Opinion

We Can Help Lebanon Come Back From Death’s Doorstep

By Ari Morgenstern
December 17, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Lebanon is dying. While it once had great potential as a crown jewel of the Mediterranean, the nation is being consumed once again by violence, division and the debilitating cancer of Hezbollah. The terrorist organization has murdered American soldiers, bombed Jewish cultural centers and an Israeli embassy, kidnapped Israeli soldiers, started wars, used human shields, and presently holds 13 seats in the Lebanese parliament.

In fact, Hezbollah’s governing coalition holds a majority. Furthermore, the president of Lebanon is an open ally of Hezbollah, and a majority of the Cabinet are members of or allied with Hezbollah — including the ministers of Defense, Justice, Finance and Public Health. It is unquestionably a failing state.

Yet in spite of Lebanon’s tragic and unchanging circumstances, the United States refuses to change its policy in the region. For years, the United States has provided military support to the Lebanese Armed Forces and demanded little if any accountability in return. The results have been predictable.

Recently, Lebanese civilian protesters were attacked by Hezbollah and its ilk while LAF soldiers stood by and watched. While significant, and an obvious affront to American values, the failure to protect protestors is just the tip of the iceberg in the LAF’s sordid relationship with Hezbollah.

Experts on the nation’s politics, security apparatus and devolution from state to failing state report the LAF “instills the pro-Hezbollah culture in the LAF officer corps” and even that sophisticated Iranian military systems “were delivered on flights carried out by the Iranian civilian airline Qeshm Air… to Beirut International Airport, controlled by the Lebanese army.”

The LAF also does Hezbollah’s bidding in efforts to undermine the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose mandate is to keep the peace along the Lebanese-Israeli border and “assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.”

One former UNIFIL officer summed the situation up this way: “When we would detect military activities in our area, especially near the Blue Line, the Lebanese Army would prevent us from posting observers. It is as if those decisions did not come from them. Everyone knows that Hezbollah is using the area for the next war.” Another peace keeper who served two tours of duty with UNIFIL “said that in his experience the Lebanese Armed Forces are sharing information 100 percent with Hezbollah.”

And yet, inertia reigns in the U.S.-Lebanon relationship.

In May of this year, after Hezbollah and its allies made “significant gains in Lebanon’s parliamentary election,” a Pentagon spokeswoman released a statement asserting, “The United States remains committed to supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability, security, and its state institutions, to include the Lebanese Armed Forces as the professional, multi-confessional and sole legitimate armed forces of the Lebanese state.”

This is a laudable goal, but it’s not being accomplished on the ground. During a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the reality of the situation was laid bare when Sen. Ted Cruz had an exchange with Joey Hood, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Near East Affairs, during which Hood acknowledged that U.S. assistance to the LAF is not going towards disarming or otherwise lessening Hezbollah’s and Iran’s influence over Lebanon.

America’s strategy today is best described as throwing money at a problem and hoping for the best. We can do better. And if we value a democratic Lebanon allied with the United States, the situation demands that we do.

There are members of the LAF who want to take their country back from Hezbollah. There are civilians who reject the LAF’s fealty to an Iranian proxy force. Congress can help them by passing the Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act, which would empower elements in the LAF loyal to their country – not to a terrorist group – to put U.S. strategy on sound footing.

Congress should condition a portion of U.S. aid to the LAF by requiring the military to take steps to purge Hezbollah from its ranks, end coordination with Hezbollah, and make progress in efforts to take control of southern Lebanon, as mandated by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.

We can help Lebanon come back from death’s doorstep. The bill is already written; the time has long since passed for Congress to act.

Ari Morgenstern is the senior director for policy and communications for Christians United for Israel.

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