November 2, 2017
As part of its recently announced strategy for confronting Iran, the White House declared its commitment to “supporting legitimate state institutions in Lebanon” and to exposing the “nefarious behavior” of the Iranian proxy Hizballah in order to help bring about its loss of “political legitimacy” and its popular support. In practice, however, this means the U.S. will continue its aid for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), despite the fact that it has been thoroughly infiltrated by, if not subordinated to, the terrorist organization it is supposed to restrain. Tony Badran sees in this statement only official confusion:
[A]s the administration sees it, supporting the LAF is part of a strategic messaging or narrative campaign of sorts, which presumably will contrast Hizballah’s illegitimate armed status with the legitimate forces of the state—even as Hizballah and its allies dominate the state. Somehow, and over an undetermined period of time, after it’s been thoroughly exposed and with its political legitimacy—whatever that means—in tatters, then presumably Hizballah will disarm. . . .
Rather remarkably, since [the current policy toward the LAF] was devised a decade ago, [it] has never had a clear, concrete, or consistent objective. . . . If you build up the Lebanese state, [the reasoning went], it can act as a “counterweight” to Hizballah or “reduce” its power. A strong LAF will “eclipse” Hizballah. Better still, building up the LAF would “strip Hizballah of its argument” to maintain its armed status, as though this were a high-school debate competition. . . .
In the meantime, the LAF’s relationship with Hizballah has only grown closer, and Hizballah’s control of the state and its institutions has tightened.
Badran suggests some concrete demands the U.S. can start making of Lebanon, among them:
The LAF needs to begin intercepting Hizballah weapons shipments. . . . Now that the LAF is deployed on the northern and eastern Lebanese borders—the land routes through which Iran transfers weapons to Hizballah [via Syria]—it needs to demonstrate willingness and capability to intercept these arms shipments. . . . Doubtless, such an effort cannot be a one-off show for the cameras. It must be credible, verifiable, and sustained.
There’s a caveat here: the Lebanese government and the LAF are sure to use the deployment on the eastern border, and the U.S. investment in it, to get Washington to pressure Israel to refrain from striking Hizballah convoys in this sensitive area. The U.S. should be aware of this trap and should reject any such potential appeals from the Lebanese government.