Earlier this year Saudi Arabia discontinued its $4 billion aid package to the Lebanese armed forces on the grounds that they had been hopelessly compromised by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization which is by far the strongest military and political actor in Lebanon. So it is a little startling to read today that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut is bragging about all the military equipment it is delivering to the Lebanese army:
The United States delivered 50 armored vehicles, 40 artillery pieces and 50 grenade launchers to the Lebanese army on Tuesday, part of its efforts to bolster Lebanon against a threat from militant groups in neighboring, conflict-ridden Syria.
The equipment, worth $50 million, is part of an aid package that has now topped $220 million this year, making Lebanon the fifth-biggest recipient of American military assistance, U.S. ambassador Elizabeth Richard said during the delivery.
Something doesn’t add up here. Does the U.S. government disagree with Riyadh about the degree of Hezbollah domination of Lebanon in general and its armed forces in particular? Does Washington believe that the Lebanese armed forces can be bolstered as an independent force to stand up to various terrorist groups including Hezbollah—and if so, how do we imagine that will happen? Or does the U.S. government simply not care about the Hezbollah-Lebanese armed forces connection?
I hesitate to leap to the conclusion that Washington simply doesn’t care, but if so that would be of a piece with the Obama administration’s de facto tilt toward Iran since the completion of the nuclear deal. The U.S. has been doing precious little to oppose the machinations of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, of which Hezbollah is the most prominent and powerful. The U.S. has even dropped bombs in Iraq in support of the advance of the Shiite militias. President Obama seems to imagine that the Iranian-backed forces can be an American ally against Sunni terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
If so, he is making a tragic miscalculation, one that I and others have repeatedly warned against. Ayatollah Ali Khameini, because he is able to marshal the resources of a large, oil-rich state with a nuclear program, is a greater long-term danger to the West than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who heads a relatively small, ramshackle state that is losing ground. Instead of trying to cooperate with Iran or turn a blind eye to its activities, the U.S. needs a much more active program to disrupt Iranian designs across the region.
In Lebanon, for example, Hezbollah has made itself unpopular by sending its young men to fight not against Israel but against the Syrian rebels—all Sunnis—who are fighting against the Iranian-backed Alawite regime (an offshoot of Shiite Islam). The U.S. should be helping anti-Hezbollah organizers in Lebanon to reduce that organization’s power instead of funneling arms to the politically compromised Lebanese military.