One way to quell Iranian appetite for expansion: Stop giving cash to Lebanese army

If the international community persists in finding ways to offer the Iranians “economic relief” and evade U.S. sanctions, we will never stop its quest for control.

Lebanese soldiers and a member of Hezbollah on the border between Israel and Lebanon on Sept. 5, 2018. Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90.
Lebanese soldiers and a member of Hezbollah on the border between Israel and Lebanon on Sept. 5, 2018. Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

This past weekend was a particularly hot one for Israel. On Sept. 1, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah launched anti-tank missiles across Israel’s northern border, directly aiming at an Israeli military base. Fortunately, there were no sustained injuries. Israel responded by attacking Lebanese targets and the outlying borders of Lebanese communities along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Again, there are no known casualties.

This was the first time since the Lebanese war in the summer of 2006 that there has been a significant military exchange between Hezbollah and Israel. It is felt that this skirmish might have been contained for now. However, the situation remains extremely tense.

What makes it tenser still is that we all know that this is a shadow war, and that the Islamic Regime is actually the puppet-master pulling the strings of Hezbollah and other Shi’ite proxy groups, throughout Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

According to Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog (ret.) who spoke for EMET on a conference call on Tuesday, the recent eruption of violence is part of the showdown that has been going on for several years now. The main factor, he believes, is Tehran’s plans to make use of the turmoil by becoming the dominant force there.

He explained that all of what we are now seeing is part of the two-pronged plan outlined by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2016, to creating a direct corridor from Tehran through Bagdad, Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean; and to build a formidable proxy front through Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias.

This comes at the same time as the Iranians are simultaneously put on a benign mask regarding the intentions of their nuclear program. Right now, they are playing brinkmanship with the international community, threatening to enrich uranium to 20 percent if they do not get immediate sanctions relief. (Once that level is reached, it is supposedly easy to get to the 90 percent level—the level of highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear bomb.)

Now they are asking for up to $15 billion from the international community in sanctions relief. There is one word for this: blackmail.

And the Europeans are all too willing to be blackmailed, particularly the French.

It is incredibly upsetting that French President Emmanuel Macron is fine with giving the Iranians that exorbitant sum of money without any preconditions, simply for coming to the table. It is obvious that they failed to learn anything from the last round of Iranian negotiations, which also rewarded the money to the Iranians up front.

This works against any leverage that the United States has been using to pressure the Iranians to give up their two goals, as outlined by Soleimani.

Both Iran and Hezbollah are under increasing economic pressure as result of American sanctions.

If the international community persists in finding ways to offer the Iranians “economic relief” and evade sanctions, we will never quell the massive Iranian appetite for expansion and control.

What is almost equally upsetting is the fact that the United States has been giving the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) upwards of $100 million a year, to the tune of 1.7 billion over the last 10 years, especially realizing that the LAF has fallen increasingly under the grip of Hezbollah

We have watched as Hezbollah has taken over more and more power within Lebanon. According to Herzog, “there is a lot of concern in Israel today about Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. We have seen that Hezbollah is now the strongest political party. They have veto power within the Lebanese parliament and veto power within the defense establishment.”

He says “Lebanese President Michel Aoun is an ally of Hezbollah. Aoun has stated officially that Hezbollah’s military capabilities complement the military capabilities of the state of Lebanon, so the state embraces Hezbollah as a military actor. We have seen coordination of the state military, the LAF and Hezbollah. We have seen that in a coordinated attack against Islamists a few years ago, and we have seen this recently when Israel discovered cross-border tunnels from Lebanon into Israel and the LAF resisted attempts to prevent this.

“And we have concerns about the lack of willingness of UNIFIL to go after Hezbollah as well.”

Adds Herzog: “This calls for a rethinking of the aid that the United States gives to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Israel has not been very vocal about this, but I know there are many concerns here.”

The reason that America initial gave money to the Lebanese Armed Forces was as a result of the 2006 war to help them to distance themselves from Hezbollah. According to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, all other armed groups, besides the LAF, must be out of Lebanon.

That includes Hezbollah.

Now that Hezbollah has been fully embraced by the LAF, one of the first things that the United States can do to prevent Soleimani and the Iranian mullahs from fulfilling their expansionist objectives is to immediately halt all money to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

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.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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