The Lebanese Prime Minister Came to the U.S. to Do PR for Hizballah

On July 25, Saad Hariri met with Donald Trump at the White House, and the two gave a joint press conference. Tony Badran argues that the trip to Washington was geared toward providing political cover for Hizballah, and convincing the president that Lebanon—whose government and military are under the terrorist group’s sway—is a key partner in fighting Islamic State (IS). Badran deems the plan a success:

No sooner had Hariri wrapped up his visit than the Center for Strategic and International Studies, [a prominent think tank] in Washington, put out a report on why, because of [a] supposed looming battle with IS, the United States should continue, even increase, its support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Tying a neat ribbon on the Lebanese information campaign, the report, written by a promoter of a pro-LAF policy who works closely with the LAF command, completed Hariri’s pitch: supporting the LAF is necessary not just because the LAF will soon fight IS, but also because otherwise Hizballah would win the so-called “battle of narratives” with the Lebanese state—which it, in fact, controls. It’s a spectacular con. . . .

The Lebanese are playing up the idea of an LAF-IS showdown to get the Americans to pay [with military aid and funds from postwar reconstruction efforts]. But Lebanon is not only roping us into become complicit in its potential coordination with Bashar al-Assad. It’s a lot worse than that. As the think-tank report advocates, the Lebanese are out to leverage U.S. political and military power, including the presence of U.S. Special Operations personnel in Lebanon—even raising all kinds of propositions, including that the LAF request direct U.S. military involvement on its side. . . .

The Lebanese Big Con obviously also threatens Israel. Eastern Lebanon, [from which the LAF is supporting Hizballah operations in Syria], is the area through which Iran brings in arms to the terrorist group. As Hizballah and Iranian forces have dug in on both sides of the Lebanon-Syria border, turning a lot of the Syrian side into military positions, the area now serves as strategic depth for the group in any future war with Israel—and will most likely be another theater of war.

[In other words], the Lebanese are leveraging U.S. investment in the LAF to constrain Israel in any future conflict: if Israel returns fire, it will be destroying military infrastructure and weapons paid for by the United States. Asking for the United States to increase its own direct deployment in Lebanon turns American servicemen into human shields to deter Israel.

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More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank