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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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen