The Obama Administration miscalculates in Lebanon
By Shoshana Bryen
WASHINGTON, D.C–When Congress withheld U.S. military assistance to the Beirut government after Lebanese Army Forces (LAF) fired into Israel, Iran announced that it would pick up the slack. Tehran already supplies Hezbollah through Syria – a process improved, according to European sources, by a new Iranian agreement with Turkey not to block Hezbollah-bound shipments through its territory. Iran would thus become a supplier to both the Lebanese government and the Lebanese government-approved Hezbollah militia. One of those is considered by the U.S. government to be a terrorist organization.
But such is the fear of Iran in the Obama Administration that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters never mind what Congress says. “I think that the statements by Iran are expressly the reason why we believe that continuing support to the Lebanese government and the Lebanese military is in our interest…Hezbollah is a fact within Lebanese society and much of our effort in supporting the Lebanese military is in fact the very professionalization that we think helps mitigate that risk.”
Crowley appears to be saying U.S. aid to the LAF will enable Lebanon to work against Hezbollah and Iran, and withholding aid would “force” Lebanon to turn to its “enemy” Iran. Evidence, please, because we find Lebanon to be acting out of weakness or affinity as an ally of Iran right now – in spite of our aid or because of it. There is no Lebanese effort to close the Syria-Lebanon border by which Iran provides increasingly sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. There is increasing evidence that the LAF warns Hezbollah of UNIFIL activity and shares intelligence and weapons. There was even a report by a generally reliable source that Iranian intelligence and commando operatives visited southern Lebanon in August in the company of the LAF.
It is simply an American illusion that when Lebanon (or the Palestinian Authority, for that matter) takes American aid, it accepts American conditions. Crowley said, “We place conditions…and there are similar conditions in terms of how Israel is able to use the assistance we provide them… Nothing that we do is condition-free.” Really?
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr announced that Lebanon would accept no conditions on U.S. military aid that precluded its use against Israel, adding gratuitously or honestly that the LAF soldier who opened fire on the IDF was acting on orders. The Palestinians have similarly asserted that they will use their American military training as they wish, and we believe them.
Our greatest concern is that it appears to take only the threat of Tehran to make American officials jump to prop up what it hopes/wishes was a friend, throwing rational assessment to the wind.
The government in Beirut is not a single entity and not an independent one. Hezbollah sits in the Cabinet as well as in the south with its private army. Syria, once ousted by Lebanese democrats who believed in the Bush freedom revolution, is back now – and Syria is being courted assiduously by the Obama Administration even as it solidifies its ties to Tehran and an increasingly Islamist Ankara. We’re sorry for the Lebanese, but we have little hope that its future will be independent, multicultural and/or pro-Western.
The Obama Administration would do well not to supply it – or the Palestinians – with the ability to hurt our real friend and ally, Israel, just because Tehran blusters.
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.