(January 14, 2019 / JNS) Iranian-backed Hezbollah has long used Lebanon as a “state within a state.” This weekend, Israel’s sophisticated tunnel-detection equipment uncovered its sixth tunnel, carved out of rock by Hezbollah. In early December, Israel embarked on “Operation Northern Shield” to uncover and explode Hezbollah’s vast network of tunnels meant to reach across the Golan Heights, leading directly into Israel.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the tunnels were wide and deep enough to allow for dozens of Hezbollah terrorist to penetrate Israel and conduct an opening salvo of the next war, accompanied by a massive explosion of the approximate 150,000 missiles.
At the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 1701, calling for all foreign forces to leave Lebanon. Israel was so careful to honor not only the letter, but the spirit of the resolution that they painted their stones blue and retreated south of the demarcation line (thus, the etymology of the term “The Blue Line”).
U.N. Resolution 1701 also called for the creation of the United Nations Forces in Lebanon, UNIFIL, whose job remains to ensure that there is a disarmament of all foreign forces within Lebanon.
However, according to several reports, the IDF had notified UNIFIL Forces about the existence of the Hezbollah tunnels. UNIFIL turned around and notified the Lebanese Armed Forces, and unfortunately, the LAF, in turn, notified Hezbollah.
The LAF has an interesting relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah and the LAF have been in a delicate balancing act as to which militia is the more dominant power in Lebanon. At this point, it seems as though Hezbollah has been in increasingly more powerful, and is exerting its influence both outside and within the LAF.
Many have described the LAF as “a wholly owned subsidiary of Hezbollah.”
As Aram Nerguizian from the Carnegie Middle East Center discusses, Lebanon has “parallel non-state military actors retaining both operational autonomy and national security legitimacy. The most obvious of this are the asymmetric military forces of Hezbollah.”
He adds that “no state institution, including the LAF, will openly challenge Hezbollah’s domestic credibility with its own Shia constituency, and the group’s resistance operations and expeditionary campaign in Syria have further strengthened Hezbollah’s domestic legitimacy.”
This is profoundly sad.
There was a period of time when I had looked towards Lebanon as the one Middle Eastern nation, outside of Israel, with religious freedom for all, and proportional representation in government for where minority and majority ethnic groups and religions.
Beirut was once considered “the Riviera of the Mediterranean”—the wealthiest city in the Middle East, a magnet for the international jet-set crowd.
The radiant epoch of that optimistic history was a brief moment from Feb. 14 to April 27, 2005, known as “The Cedar Revolution.” It was a time when tens of thousands of Lebanese Christians courageously took to the streets and demanded an ouster of Syrian forces.
That moment now seems like ancient history.
It had been provoked by the Feb. 14 assassination via truck bomb of Lebanese President Rafic Hariri. Four Lebanese members of Hezbollah were indicted in the murder.
Lebanon is a country made up of a myriad of ethnic and religious groups, including Shia and Sunni Muslims, Maronite, Eastern Orthodox, Melkite Catholic and Protestant Christians, and Druze (there hasn’t been a new census in Lebanon since 1932). Their byzantine system of governance tries to allow for a rotation of power for the various ethnic and religious groups, based on demographics.
In 1974, Imam Musa al-Sadir and Hussein el-Husseini, both Shia Muslims, established “The Movement of the Deprived” or the “Amal Movement,” which was a populist movement that aimed to represent “all dispossessed, deprived and poor people.” And then, ignited by the momentum of Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Shi’ite movement began to emerge as a real force to reckon with and formed Hezbollah, meaning “The Party of God.”
Since then, Hezbollah has rapidly caught fire. Hezbollah runs an entire social-network system of schools, hospitals and even sports clubs throughout Lebanon. These entities and private homes have been used as military bases for Hezbollah.
To see how powerful it’s become, in the last parliamentary election in May of 2018, Hezbollah won more than half of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament.
Many of the Hezbollah fighters were involved in the Syrian civil war, fighting alongside the forces of the ruthless Syrian President Bashar Assad and their mutual patron, Iran.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States gives the Lebanese Armed Forces approximately $150 million dollars a year, adding up to $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion over the last 10 years. Because of the intricate and complicated relationship between Hezbollah and the LAF, it’s high time we suspended that aid.
Unfortunately, we’ve come a long way since the golden days of the Cedar Revolution.
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.