The Folly of Supporting Lebanon's Military

Washington can't seem to acknowledge that the Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah are allies

Lebanese Armed Forces take part in a military parade / Getty
January 4, 2019

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" is the most overused cliché out there, but it is appropriate to describe American policy toward Lebanon. The Trump administration is providing the Lebanese Armed Forces, or LAF, with more than $100 million in upgrades to tanks and attack helicopters. The package includes "training for pilots and maintenance crew on MD-530G light scout attack helicopters provided by the Pentagon last year, as well as laser-guided rockets … sniper rifles, night-vision devices, and mortars for infantry units," Al-Monitor reported Thursday. Lebanon will receive the equipment through the Defense Department's Section 333 program, which helps partners of the U.S. military fight terrorism and handle border security. A Pentagon spokeswoman told Al-Monitor that "strengthening the [LAF] advances a range of U.S. interests in the Middle East that includes not only countering the spread of violent extremisms but also stemming the influence of Iran and Hezbollah." This logic continues to motivate American policy, even under the Trump administration. The insanity must stop. The U.S. needs to halt its aid to the LAF.

Washington's approach to Lebanon is straightforward. American policy is to build up Lebanese state institutions with money and other forms of support to act as a bulwark against the influence of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization in effective control of Lebanon. The crown jewel of this strategy is the LAF, which the U.S. provides with massive amounts of aid in order to extend Lebanese government control over the entire country and make the army the sole military force in Lebanon.

The U.S. has provided about $1.7 billion to the LAF since 2006. Curiously, the Trump administration has continued this failed policy from the Bush and Obama years, despite the president's hostility to many of the foreign-policy establishment's orthodoxies. In August 2017, for example, the Trump administration gave the LAF $100 million worth of aid, and four months later, announced that it would provide the Lebanese army with attack helicopters for the first time. Last year, the U.S. sent more than $90 million worth of military equipment to help the Lebanese army protect its borders and said it would complete the delivery of a $340 million aid package. Washington, especially the Pentagon and State Department, billed these moves as part of an effort to enable the Lebanese government to "provide civilian security and assert its authority throughout all of Lebanese territory"—in other words, to counter Hezbollah.

The sad and obvious irony is that the exact opposite outcomes have resulted from American support. Lebanon and Hezbollah have now become synonyms, with Iran's chief proxy force becoming increasingly entrenched in the country's political system. Indeed, Hezbollah, together with allied parties and politicians, controls 70 of the 128 seats in Lebanon's parliament. Additionally, Lebanese President Michel Aoun is allied with Hezbollah, as are other key government officials. Furthermore, Hezbollah is set to take effective control of the Ministry of Public Health.

More importantly, Hezbollah has become more powerful than the LAF—in large part due to Iran's support, which includes about $700 million a year and increasingly advanced rockets. Worse still, the LAF is actually allied with Hezbollah, closely collaborating with the anti-American terrorists while enjoying Washington's support. Yossi Mansharof, an Israeli researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security who focuses on Iran and Shi'ite networks in the Middle East, recently published a must-read, detailed analysis on coordination between the LAF and Hezbollah. It is dismaying to read just how extensively they collaborate. For example, Western intelligence sources revealed this summer that Iran used a civilian airliner, known for its ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to fly weapons and advanced systems to Beirut International Airport, which the Lebanese army controls. To give another example, the Israeli military revealed in September that Hezbollah and the LAF are operating together in south Lebanon and that Hezbollah operatives even sometimes wear Lebanese army uniforms.

Despite what American officials say, providing money to the LAF is providing money to Hezbollah. At the very least, it should be clear that giving aid to the Lebanese army has done nothing to counter Hezbollah's influence. Why continue the same course and expect a different result after more than a decade?

The bottom line is that when—not if—the next war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah, which seeks the Jewish state's destruction, the Israelis will likely need to regard the LAF as hostile, not as neutral. In order for Israel to wage war as effectively as possible, the U.S. should give Jerusalem its blessing to target the LAF as necessary in a third Lebanon war. The first step to start that process is for Washington to halt its aid to the LAF. The aid has achieved none of its goals, and is actually making the situation worse by bolstering Hezbollah indirectly.

Or the Trump administration can continue arming the Lebanese army and hope for the best. Insanity is hard to shake.