Analysis from Israel

If I were compiling a foreign policy wish list for 2018, high on the list would be ending the fiction that Lebanon is an independent country rather than an Iranian satrapy governed by Iran’s foreign legion, Hezbollah. The Western foreign policy establishment maintains this fiction out of good intentions; it wants to protect innocent Lebanese from suffering the consequences of Hezbollah’s military provocations against its neighbors. But this policy has enabled Hezbollah to devastate several neighboring countries with impunity, and it’s paving the way to a war that will devastate Lebanon itself.

Sheltering Lebanon from the consequences of Hezbollah’s behavior is both a bipartisan and a transatlantic consensus. This was evident from the West’s wall-to-wall outrage in November, when Saudi Arabia abortively tried to end the pretense that Hezbollah doesn’t rule Lebanon by pressuring the organization’s fig leaf, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to resign. The International Support Group for Lebanon, which includes the U.S., UN, European Union, Arab League, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, China, and Russia, issued a statement demanding that Lebanon be “shielded from tensions in the region.” The State Department’s acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, demanded that Saudi Arabia “explain why Riyadh was destabilizing Lebanon.” French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed it vital that Lebanon remains “disassociated” from regional crises. And the list goes on.

Yet the West has shown no similar concern for shielding the many Mideast countries which Lebanon’s de facto ruling party has destabilized for years. Thousands of Hezbollah troops have fought in Syria’s civil war, helping the Assad regime to slaughter hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Hezbollah also has troops in Yemen to support the Houthi rebels in that country’s civil war, and it may have been involved in firing missiles from Yemen at Saudi Arabia. It has trained Shi’ite militias in Iraq and fought alongside them. And, of course, it has built an arsenal of some 150,000 missiles–bigger than that of most conventional armies–for eventual use against Israel.

Granted, Hezbollah isn’t Lebanon’s official ruling party; it’s part of a coalition government led by Hariri, who actually belongs to a rival party. But not only does Hezbollah have official veto power over all government decisions, it’s also the country’s dominant military force. Hariri has no power to stop Hezbollah from sending its troops all over the region; he can’t even stop it from doing as it pleases within Lebanon itself.

One small example perfectly illustrates his impotence. In early December, Qais al-Khazali, the head of an Iraqi Shi’ite militia, was videotaped accompanying Hezbollah operatives to the Lebanese-Israeli border and proclaiming his militia’s willingness to help Hezbollah fight Israel. Hariri termed the visit a “flagrant violation” of Lebanese law and ordered the Lebanese army to make sure no such incident recurred. A few weeks later, as if to underscore Hariri’s powerlessness, Hezbollah took another senior commander from a Syrian Shi’ite militia to the border for a similar videotaped pledge.

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the West has insisted on maintaining the fiction that Lebanon is somehow independent of Hezbollah rather than ruled by it. And in so doing, Western countries have actually enabled Hezbollah’s aggression.

Thanks to this fiction, the West gives hundreds of millions of dollars in both civilian and military aid to Lebanon. Civilian aid, of which the EU has provided over $1 billion in recent years, frees Hezbollah of the need to pay for the consequences of its actions, like caring for the 1.1 million Syrian refugees its own aggression helped drive from Syria into Lebanon. American military aid, of which Lebanon is the world’s sixth-largest recipient, has given Hezbollah access to training, intelligence, equipment and other military capabilities, since the Lebanese army shares everything it receives with the organization, whether willingly or under compulsion from Hezbollah’s greater strength.

Moreover, thanks to this fiction, the West has repeatedly watered down sanctions on Hezbollah to avoid harming Lebanon and has also repeatedly pressured other countries not to penalize Lebanon for Hezbollah’s aggression. This has allowed Hezbollah to wage its foreign wars without its own Lebanese constituency paying any price. If Hezbollah knew its own citizens would suffer for its actions, it might think twice about foreign adventurism.

But aside from destabilizing other Mideast countries, this Western policy is liable to boomerang on Lebanon itself. Serious observers currently rate another Hezbollah-Israel war as somewhere between likely and inevitable. And because Hezbollah has 150,000 rockets pointed at Israel’s civilian population, Israel would have no choice but to employ maximum force to end such a war as quickly as possible. Against a threat of that magnitude, protecting its own people would trump any international pressure for “restraint.”

The result would be massive civilian casualties, given Hezbollah’s habit of embedding troops and weapons in urban areas, as well as the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, which Hezbollah uses to move and resupply its troops. In short, Lebanon would be devastated.

The only way to prevent such a war is to reverse the Western policies that have enabled Hezbollah to grow to its current monstrous proportions. This means exerting massive pressure on Hezbollah, even if it also hurts Lebanon. Such pressure should include targeting Hezbollah’s drug trade and sanctioning Lebanese banks that handle its finances. This might keep the organization so preoccupied with its own survival that it has no energy to spare for taking on Israel. In addition, the West must be clear that it can’t and won’t protect Lebanon if war does break out. If Hezbollah believes the West will once again intervene to shield Lebanon, it’s liable to make the mistake of thinking it can fight Israel without intolerable consequences to its own people.

Several decades of “protecting” Lebanon have only strengthened Hezbollah, and it’s folly to think more of the same will produce different results. Thus, it’s long past time to acknowledge that Lebanon is a fully-owned Iranian subsidiary and to treat it accordingly–not only for the sake of Lebanon’s neighbors but for the sake of Lebanon itself.

Originally published in Commentary on January 11, 2018

3 Responses to The Fiction that Destabilizes the Middle East

  • Alan Rockman says:

    The problem is, is that you can thank successive Israeli leaders for allowing this to happen.

    First Begin, who when learning of the murder of the pro-Israel Bashir Gemayel back in 1982, should have immediately ordered a massive air strike on the Presidential Palace in Damascus. Instead the Christian militias moved into Sabra and Shatila, and we know what happened after that – pressure to remove Israeli forces out of Beirut, the Marines going in, the Lebanese Civil War which Assad and the Iranians won, and 250 dead Marines at the Beirut airport.

    Then in 1990, when Aoun, the NOW Pro-Iranian, pro-Hezbollah President of Lebanon (survival instinct more than anything else) was not so, and leading the Lebanese resistance against Syria – with some Israeli aid – was massively assaulted by the Syrian Army, Yitzhak Shamir, one of the worst Prime Ministers in Israeli history ordered the Israeli Air Force NOT TO HELP AOUN and his forces – courtesy of phone calls from Shamir’s pal, the Jew-hating Jim Baker (the US Secretary of State at the time). Over 2,000 Lebanese Christians were subsequently murdered, including Dany Chamoun, the Christian leader and his entire family – and a pro-Syria, pro-Iran regime was installed in Beirut.

    Shamir’s reward for sucking up to Jim Baker and Bush Sr.? Being forced not to retaliate when Iraq rocketed Israel three months later, and having the loan guarantees denied by a Bush-Baker US government (remember “F the Jews, they didn’t vote for us”?)

    And finally Ehud Barak. For almost 20 years a VERY loyal Christian and yes, Shi’ite militia under the command of Major Sa’ad Haddad – who later died of Cancer, and his successors kept Hezbollah from the Northern Borders of Israel. BUT even as his DEPUTY minister of Defense, the clueless son of the Communist Moshe Sneh – Eppie Sneh – vowed openly that Israel would never abandon its South Lebanese Army “brothers in blood”, Ehud Barak, the most decorated COWARD in Israeli History did exactly the opposite in the spring of 2000. Ordering the IDF forces still in Southern Lebanon to retreat to Israel in the dead of night, they abandoned the SLA who couldn’t fight off the combined forces of Iran, Syria, and yes, Lebanon’s Iranian puppet Hezbollah alone.

    Over 15,000 Lebanese soldiers and their families became refugees in Israel. Instead of Hezbollah becoming refugees in Syria and Iran – courtesy of the gutless, compliant Ehud Barak. Yasser Arafat, taking note of Barak’s cowardice and yes, treason, saw him as a gutless wonder and immediately launched the 2000 Intifada.

    And should I bring up Olmert and Livni, two crooks and traitors who couldn’t even fight a war right? Hezbollah was on the ropes when those two agreed to a cease-fire which not only NOT brought the three boys kidnapped by Hezbollah back alive, but allowed Hezbollah to keep (then) over 35,000 missiles intact while they accepted worthless UN guarantees and freed ALIVE 500 Hezbollah – and PLO – killers. President Bush Jr. (PRO-Israel in spite of his dad) was amazed at the idiocy of Olmert, since he had given Israel the green light to eliminate Hezbollah and was strongly supportive – saying the operation should have been completed before Israel accepted any cease fire.

    And you wonder why Israel – and the poor people of Lebanon, oppressed by these Iranian proxies are in the predicament they are in? NO, I’m certainly NOT anti-Israel, quite the opposite, but they chose to abandon their ONLY REAL ARAB ALLY in the Middle East, the Lebanese Christians and now they have a problem with Iran’s terror proxies which can only be solved by a military attack on Iran – not on an occupied people, the people of Lebanon, occupied by Syria and Iran. Bombing Hezbollah again is not enough. You don’t kill a snake by cutting off its tail, you kill it by cutting off its head – in Tehran.

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Why the status quo is the least bad option for Palestinians

Even among people who recognize that Israeli-Palestinian peace is currently impossible, a growing number think that Israel must nevertheless quit the West Bank. Israel has a right to defend itself, their argument goes, but not by controlling another people for decades. Instead, it should withdraw to the “internationally recognized border” and protect itself from there, like other countries do.

Forget for a moment that the “internationally recognized border” is an arrant fiction. Forget as well that Israel remains in the West Bank precisely because defending itself from the 1949 armistice lines (the abovementioned fictional border) hasn’t worked very well in either the West Bank—from which Israel partially withdrew in the 1990s before returning the following decade—or the Gaza Strip.

That still leaves another uncomfortable fact: As long as genuine peace remains impossible, Israeli control of the West Bank, despite the undeniable hardships it causes Palestinians, remains the least bad alternative for the Palestinians themselves. As evidence, just compare the Israeli-controlled West Bank to Gaza, which has been free of both settlers and soldiers since August 2005. By almost any parameter, life in the former is far better.

Take, for instance, casualties. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, Israeli security forces killed 5,706 Palestinians in Gaza from September 2005 through August 2019. That’s almost eight times the 756 killed by Israeli security personnel and settlers combined in the West Bank during this period (no Gazans were killed by settlers since there are no settlers there).

Nor is this surprising. Israel’s control of the West Bank means that suspected terrorists can often be arrested rather than killed, though shootouts (with attendant collateral damage) do occur. But in Gaza, where Israel has no troops, it can’t arrest terrorists. Thus the only way to fight terror is through military action, which naturally produces many more casualties among both combatants and civilians.

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