Lebanon is in the midst of an historic economic crisis. The country has ground to a halt due to lack of energy supplies. Its currency has been decimated. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Its soldiers cannot be paid. The Biden administration recently announced a plan to prop up the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with $47 million, but that’s not what Lebanon requires. It is nothing more than a bandage over an infected wound. Fundamental reforms to stop Hezbollah from destroying the country from within are urgently needed, and no amount of unconditional US aid can do that.
Only Lebanon’s political leaders can put the Pearl of the Middle East on a new, steady course, and thus far, they have shown a lack of will to do so. The US should not aid Lebanon in its self-destruction. Instead, the United States should confront Beirut and force it to make hard choices that will cure the nation’s ills.
Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terror organization, is today at the nadir of its domestic popularity and yet firmly entrenched in both the armed forces and the government – including the newly formed cabinet. This should not be. The US has spent more than $2 billion dollars in Lebanon to enable the LAF to disarm Hezbollah, but Lebanon’s rulers and generals have refused to take meaningful action. As a result, Lebanon has been effectively turned over to terrorists.
Hezbollah’s military and political power has reached new heights in recent years. Today, through its allies, Hezbollah controls the majority of Lebanon’s parliament and a sizeable chunk of the cabinet (including holding two seats of its own). Likewise, Hezbollah’s coordination with and infiltration of the LAF has reached fever pitch.
The LAF has at times been indistinguishable from the terrorist thugs it is meant to confront. This American-backed military has attacked, arrested and tortured innocent Lebanese protestors, allowed Hezbollah to build tunnels under the Lebanese-Israeli border, and permitted Hezbollah forces to don LAF uniforms while the two entities – the army and Hezbollah – have engaged in joint “patrols in shared patrol vehicles.” The list goes on, but one thing should now be glaringly clear to US policymakers: the LAF is acting as a supplementary force of Hezbollah.
All of this begs the question of why American officials, regardless of administration, continue to pretend the LAF is something it is not. In May, a State Department factsheet claimed “The LAF has historically served as a pillar of stability in a country facing extraordinary challenges, including the presence of the terrorist group Hizballah.” And more recently Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mira Resnick testified before Congress that, “The LAF is one of our most capable partners in the Middle East.”
The State Department’s claims are as absurd as the policy they defend. The LAF has shown no willingness to disarm Hezbollah. It has not enforced UN Security Council resolutions. It has not been a capable steward of Lebanon’s stability. And it is undeserving of our support while it permits a terrorist takeover.
Not all of Washington is blind to reality though. Congress has time and again tried to right the ship only to be rebuffed by consecutive administrations. The executive branch has failed to comply with mandates to report to the public on the LAF’s nonexistent efforts to roll back Hezbollah’s position or expose the finances of Hezbollah’s kleptocratic leadership. Congress is being ignored by its co-equal branch of government, and it’s time for Congress to assert itself by turning off the spigot of cash and forcing a smarter, more nuanced US approach.
The US should be empowering those within the LAF and the broader Lebanese society who want to end Hezbollah’s stranglehold over their country by conditioning aid to the LAF on it meeting key benchmarks. Namely, the US should demand the LAF purge Hezbollah from its ranks, take steps to disarm it in Lebanon, and fully enforce Security Council resolutions to protect international peace and security.
If it fails to do so, the Biden administration can be expected to continue to follow the same failed policies that have brought Lebanon to the brink of Hezbollah winning control over Lebanon’s political and economic future, risked the safety of the people in southern Lebanon living among heavily armed terrorists poised to attack Israel, and threatened the future of Lebanese Christians.
The Biden administration believes the LAF is the sole legitimate defender of Lebanese sovereignty. It’s time for the LAF to show that to be true.