Ending Lebanon's free ride
Since Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora bowed to Hizbullah's demands in Doha last month and agreed to grant the Iranian-controlled, Syrian-supported terror group control over his government, Lebanon has become an official agent of a terror group. That is, Lebanon, as a state, has become a sponsor of terror. But no one seems to notice or to care.
Truth be told, on the surface the situation in Lebanon is quite complicated. There is a power struggle of sorts going on today between Saniora's pro-Lebanese sovereignty March 14th movement and Hizbullah. Even in its diminished status, the March 14th movement is seeking to compel Hizbullah to subordinate its Iranian proxy army to the government. But this is an exercise in futility.
As Hizbullah demonstrated clearly during its armed insurrection in May that led to the Doha agreement, and as it continues to demonstrate in its attacks against Sunni neighborhoods in Tripoli, it is fully willing to use its militia to force its political opponents to accept its complete independence.
But then, while it is clear that the March 14th movement's leaders and supporters oppose Hizbullah's independence from central authority, it is far from clear that they oppose its terrorist operations. The fact of the matter is that none of Hizbullah's political opponents in Lebanon have anything but praise for its aggression against Israel and its clear intention to continue its war against Israel for its Iranian commanders.
MAKING THIS point this week, Lebanon's Finance Minister Muhammad Shatah, explained, "We are all in agreement that it will be crazy not to benefit from Hizbullah resistance capabilities, but the dispute is whether this will be done within the state or outside." The widespread support that Hizbullah's terror war against Israel enjoys in Lebanon was prominently displayed on July 16 when convicted baby killer Samir Kuntar and his fellow Lebanese terrorists were released to Lebanon by Israel in exchange for the mutilated corpses of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser who were killed in Hizbullah's raid on their military position in Israel on July 12, 2006.
All of Lebanon's supposedly moderate leaders were at the Hizbullah-controlled Beirut airport to accord Kuntar a hero's welcome. President Michel Suleiman embraced Kuntar - who crushed four-year-old Einat Haran's skull - and his fellow terrorists as "our freed heroes." Sa'ad Hariri, the head of the March 14th movement, referred to Kuntar's release as "an historic day of joy." Saniora hailed the corpses-for-murderers swap explaining, "The success of Hizbullah in the negotiations led by a third party is a national success for the party and for the struggle of the Lebanese because it secured national goals which Israel always refused to respect." And Druse leader Walid Jumblatt hailed Kuntar's release as "a national holiday."
HIZBULLAH'S DOMESTIC intimidation and international terrorism is enabled by the Lebanese military which refuses to confront it. And this is nothing new. During the 2006 war, when Suleiman commanded the Lebanese armed forces, the Lebanese military actively collaborated with Hizbullah units. Then, as now, Hizbullah was a coalition partner in Saniora's government.
During the war, the Lebanese military guided Hizbullah in attacking the INS Hanit along the Lebanese coastline with an advanced, Iranian-supplied Chinese C-802 missile. The Lebanese military pays pensions to the families of Hizbullah fighters killed in battle. Since the war, the Lebanese military enabled Hizbullah to reassert its control over south Lebanon, to expand its control north of the Litani River and to massively rearm.
Moreover, throughout the war, Saniora acted as Hizbullah's mouthpiece. He condemned all Israeli efforts to defend its territory from wanton aggression and championed all of Hizbullah's demands in cease-fire negotiations. By the same token, the Saniora government backed all of Hizbullah's attacks against Israel - attacks which forced a million Israelis to flee their homes or live in bomb shelters for the duration of the war.
IN JULY 2006, understanding the Saniora government's collusion with Hizbullah, Israel's immediate reaction to Hizbullah's abduction of its soldiers and bombardment of northern Israel was to hold Beirut accountable. In his first press conference of the war, just hours after Goldwasser and Regev were abducted and their comrades killed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made this point explicitly. He declared, "This morning's events were not a terror attack. They were the act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel, without reason and without provocation. The government of Lebanon, of which Hizbullah is a part, is attempting to destabilize the region. Lebanon is the responsible party, and Lebanon will pay the consequences for its actions."
Israel's initial strategy for fighting the war was to disable Hizbullah's war machine by bombing Lebanese infrastructure targets such as highways, the airport, bridges, electricity grids and the telecommunication systems. All of these facilities enabled Hizbullah's war effort. It is possible that if Israel had in fact attacked Lebanon's national infrastructures, the blow to Hizbullah's war machine might have been strategically debilitating. In that event, the task of land forces charged with defeating Hizbullah forces on the ground would have been smoother.
But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would have none of it. Already in the earliest stages of the war, she began putting pressure on Israel not to attack Lebanese infrastructure. Her demand was formalized in the G-8 declaration three days after Hizbullah initiated hostilities.
Rice's support for Saniora's government was so strong and consistent, that she eventually forced Israel to cave to all of Hizbullah's demands in UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which set the terms of the cease-fire at the end of the war. Rice defended her support by noting the democratic character of the March 14th movement and its success - with US and French support - in forcing most Syrian forces to depart Lebanon in April 2005.
Despite the Lebanese government's and military's open and active collusion with Hizbullah throughout the war, in its aftermath, US support for Saniora's government and his military expanded exponentially. In the year following the war, US aid to Lebanon grew from $41 million to $520 million. US military assistance to the Lebanese military since the war has been in excess of $410 million, making Lebanon the second largest recipient per capita of US military aid.
US military support for Lebanon grows even as the Lebanese armed forces demonstrate at every turn that they collaborate with Hizbullah. It was supplemented after the Lebanese military, under Suleiman's command, refused to prevent Hizbullah's coup in May. Moreover, the day before Suleiman gave Kuntar the red carpet treatment at the Beirut airport, Maj.-Gen. Robert Allardice, the US Central Command's director of strategy, plans and policy, visited Beirut and announced an additional $32 million in military aid.
Since 2006, the US has given Lebanon some 285 Humvees, 200 cargo trucks, helicopter parts, assault rifles, grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons and urban warfare bunker weapons. Another 300 Humvees, mobile communications systems, several hundred anti-tank missiles and coastal patrol craft are on order.
Israel has recently begun openly expressing its alarm about these weapon transfers. Given Hizbullah's now inarguable control over Lebanon and its sway over its military forces, it is all but a foregone conclusion that these weapons will likely be used by Hizbullah and its allied forces in the Lebanese army in any future war with Israel. In recent weeks, senior Defense Ministry officials have been dispatched to the Pentagon in an attempt to convince the US to stop the weapons transfers. Yet while the Pentagon was only too happy to give Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Ashkenazi an unrequested medal, it has rebuffed all of Israel's entreaties.
ALL OF this is depressingly familiar. In many ways, the Saniora government is to Hizbullah in Lebanon what the Fatah terror group is to Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. As is the case in Lebanon, the US trains, finances and arms Fatah. It supports Fatah politically against Israel, claiming that Fatah has earned its support through its moderation relative to Hamas. But as events have shown repeatedly, Fatah is a terrorist organization and is only too happy to collude with Hamas in attacking Israel and to form governments with Hamas so long as Hamas doesn't embarrass it too much.
Notably in the case of the Palestinians, the US cut off its assistance to the PA after Fatah and Hamas formed their unity government last year and only reinstated that assistance after Hamas ended the unity deal by seizing control of Gaza from its Fatah partner. In Lebanon's case, US support for the country has grown as Hizbullah's control of the government and the military have become more open. Indeed, today Rice is openly pressing Israel to surrender Mt. Dov and Ghajar village to Lebanon even though Lebanon has no legal claim to either. And this she does by claiming that an Israeli capitulation to Hizbullah's demands will strengthen Saniora who is controlled by Hizbullah - and believing that this will be a good thing.
With even the Olmert-Livni-Barak government calling openly for a revision of Resolution 1701 to curtail the Lebanese military's ability to facilitate Hizbullah's rearmament and assertion of control over southern Lebanon, and with even Britain finally classifying Hizbullah's militia as a terror group, the time has come to revisit US policy.
US JEWISH leaders and counterterror champions on Capitol Hill should begin a campaign to compel the State Department to place Lebanon on its list of state sponsors of terror. At a minimum, US military and financial assistance to the Hizbullah-controlled government should be abrogated immediately.
The current government of Lebanon is only expected to remain in power for another year. Hizbullah is expected to be the big winner in Lebanon's parliamentary elections scheduled for next year. As Lebanese parliamentarian Samir Franjieh from the March 14th movement explained in a media interview this week, "Weapons eliminate the principle of majority [rule]. In... 2005 the March 14 [movement] won a majority of parliamentary seats in the elections. The result was practically eliminated by the use of force. Having armed factions [running for elections in 2009] would limit the freedom of voters."
It is reasonable for the US to seek to support pro-Western democrats in the Arab world. It is unreasonable for the US to be bankrolling a terror-controlled regime populated by terrorists and democrats who support their aggression. This is particularly the case when the same terrorists are waging war not only against Israel, but against America's own forces in Iraq.
Olmert's July 12, 2006 declaration is still apt. Lebanon must be forced to suffer the consequences of its support for Hizbullah.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.