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Hizballah Tightens Its Grip on Lebanon as U.S. Policy Remains Confused

As part of its recently announced strategy for confronting Iran, the White House declared its commitment to “supporting legitimate state institutions in Lebanon” and to exposing the “nefarious behavior” of the Iranian proxy Hizballah in order to help bring about its loss of “political legitimacy” and its popular support. In practice, however, this means the U.S. will continue its aid for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), despite the fact that it has been thoroughly infiltrated by, if not subordinated to, the terrorist organization it is supposed to restrain. Tony Badran sees in this statement only official confusion:

[A]s the administration sees it, supporting the LAF is part of a strategic messaging or narrative campaign of sorts, which presumably will contrast Hizballah’s illegitimate armed status with the legitimate forces of the state—even as Hizballah and its allies dominate the state. Somehow, and over an undetermined period of time, after it’s been thoroughly exposed and with its political legitimacy—whatever that means—in tatters, then presumably Hizballah will disarm. . . .

Rather remarkably, since [the current policy toward the LAF] was devised a decade ago, [it] has never had a clear, concrete, or consistent objective. . . . If you build up the Lebanese state, [the reasoning went], it can act as a “counterweight” to Hizballah or “reduce” its power. A strong LAF will “eclipse” Hizballah. Better still, building up the LAF would “strip Hizballah of its argument” to maintain its armed status, as though this were a high-school debate competition. . . .

In the meantime, the LAF’s relationship with Hizballah has only grown closer, and Hizballah’s control of the state and its institutions has tightened.

Badran suggests some concrete demands the U.S. can start making of Lebanon, among them:

The LAF needs to begin intercepting Hizballah weapons shipments. . . . Now that the LAF is deployed on the northern and eastern Lebanese borders—the land routes through which Iran transfers weapons to Hizballah [via Syria]—it needs to demonstrate willingness and capability to intercept these arms shipments. . . . Doubtless, such an effort cannot be a one-off show for the cameras. It must be credible, verifiable, and sustained.

There’s a caveat here: the Lebanese government and the LAF are sure to use the deployment on the eastern border, and the U.S. investment in it, to get Washington to pressure Israel to refrain from striking Hizballah convoys in this sensitive area. The U.S. should be aware of this trap and should reject any such potential appeals from the Lebanese government.

Read more at Tablet

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

 

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy