When the Syrian civil war threatened to spill over into Lebanon, the country’s military cooperated with Hizballah to keep Sunni jihadists out. This cooperation, combined with Hizballah’s increasing political influence, has blurred the lines between the terrorist organization and the Lebanese state itself. At least, this is how Israel and Saudi Arabia see the situation. The U.S. disagrees, as Jonathan Spyer writes:
As the 2006 war [with Israel] and subsequent events graphically demonstrated, Hizballah and its patrons [in Tehran] can operate an independent foreign and military policy without seeking the permission of the [government] in Beirut. What has happened in the intervening decade, however, is that Hizballah and its allies, rather than simply ignoring the wishes of the state, have progressively absorbed its institutions. . . . Hizballah and its allies prevented the appointment of a Lebanese president for two years, before ensuring the ascendance of their own allied candidate, Michel Aoun, in October 2016. . . .
What of the issue of security cooperation between Hizballah and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)? No serious observer of Lebanon disputes that open cooperation between the two forces has increased over the last half decade. . . . The U.S., however, has continued its relationship with the LAF, which was the recipient of $200 million in assistance from Washington last year. . . .
The difference of opinion between the U.S. and Israel in this regard is of growing importance because of the emergent evidence of hitherto unreported Hizballah activities. In particular, there is deep disquiet in Israel regarding revelations of an Iranian-supported, homegrown Hizballah arms industry. This, combined with what may be the beginnings of a slow winding-down of the Syrian war raises the possibility of renewed tensions with Hizballah. . . .
[If and when war does come, Israel’s] intention will be to dismiss any distinction between Hizballah and the Lebanese state, and to wage war against Lebanon [itself], on the basis that the distinction has become a fiction. This will involve an all-out use of military force that will be intended to force a relatively quick decision. For this to be conceivable, a diplomatic battle must first be won.
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