I met with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer earlier this month, when he described Iran as “the head of the octopus whose tentacles are reaching into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and from the Middle East throughout the world.”
Well, one of those tentacles just got a great deal stronger.
In January, new elections swept in Hassan Diab as prime minister. Diab is closely aligned with the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah.
Shi’ite-linked parties also now control more than half of the Lebanese parliament.
After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, U.N. Resolution 1701 said that all foreign powers have to leave Lebanon. Israeli troops withdrew. Although Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah promised to honor the resolution, the terrorist group quickly swooped in to fill the void.
As Dermer told me, “You go into any house on the Lebanese border with Israel, and they will show you their kitchen, their bedroom, their rocket room.”
Since 2006, the United States has given the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) $1.7 billion. The United States provides aircraft, artillery, small arms and ammunition, plus advice and training to the LAF. In addition, we provide $1.2 billion in non-military assistance to Lebanon.
Many in Congress have long argued that this is necessary because it acts as leverage against Hezbollah. This paradigm of “arms for influence” is a total failure, and it’s long past time to dispose of it.
Our influence in Lebanon compared to that of Hezbollah is so subtle that it is like a whisper during the final touchdown at a Super Bowl.
According to Gen. Michael Herzog (ret.) of the Israel Defense Forces, “it is impossible to know where the margins of the LAF end and where Hezbollah begins. The Lebanese Armed Forces actually give uniforms to members of Hezbollah.”
And even if they are not officially members, the hearts and minds of the population have, over the course of many years, been incrementally indoctrinated to embrace Hezbollah. They, as well as Hamas, and many other terrorist groups do this by insidiously and gradually taking hold of charities, hospitals and youth groups. Hezbollah now controls the all-important health ministry, which the average Lebanese citizen relies on for medical care.
As Abu Tahar recently wrote in Britain’s The Daily Mail, the World Scout Organization is investigating whether the Lebanese Imam al-Mahdi Scouts (tellingly named for the Shia Messiah the 12th imam) is training children to become future Hezbollah terrorists. According to the report, children as young as 4 are inducted into the Al-Mahdi group, which is “the youth wing of Hezbollah.”
Some 45,000 of these children are enrolled in the group, which, he writes, “have provided honor guards at the funerals of known Hezbollah terrorists, while other members have been pictured posing with armed fighters, wearing uniforms and headbands with anti-Israel slogans such as, ‘Jerusalem-We are Coming.’ ”
There are also Facebook posts with the al-Mahdi Scouts pointing their guns towards Israel.
Lebanon has a failing economy, which has provoked massive demonstrations on the streets since October. The Gulf States, increasingly threatened by the Iranian menace and what Hezbollah has done throughout the region themselves, are not at all impressed with the election of Diab.
Although Western countries have donated $11 billion to Lebanon in the past and the Gulf States have contributed at least $1 billion last year, an Arab official said that, “You cannot come and expect money from the Arab Gulf, then Hezbollah, the next day, completely targets the Gulf.”
As Abdulrahman Al-Rashed wrote in the Arabic international newspaper Asra Al-Awsat, “Hassan Diab was congratulated on his new position only by a few states, one of which was Iran.”
Further, he writes, “Whether Diab is a front for Hezbollah or not, the truth is that the entire Lebanese state is being held hostage by Hezbollah.”
We know that more than 1,000 American servicemen have been killed or maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan by Iranian manufactured EFPs (explosively formed penetrators). Yet we are giving Hezbollah, the Shi’ite “Army of God” in Lebanon, our taxpayers’ dollars.
This insanity must end. We should not be feeding any one of the octopus’ tentacles, when we are all well aware that this growing Iranian menace ultimately aims to sting us.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.