The U.S. Navy, responding to the Iranian attack on a Saudi Arabian oil field, recently sent a destroyer to the Middle East to demonstrate its willingness to defend its allies. But, write Tony Badran and Jonathan Schanzer, the fact that the ship was dispatched not to the Persian Gulf but to Beirut highlights the confusion of American policy toward Lebanon. For at least a decade, policymakers in Washington have hoped that supporting the country and its armed forces could give it the political and military power to rein in Hizballah, the Iran-backed guerrilla group that operates from its territory. Instead, the opposite has happened:
The institution receiving the most U.S. support, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), has worked hand in hand with Hizballah nationwide. It has deployed jointly alongside Hizballah fighters battling Sunni militants both in Lebanese cities and on the border with Syria. It has laid down supporting fire [for the terrorist group] using U.S.-provided weapons and ammunition. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed in 2006 [at the end of Israel’s Second Lebanon War], called for Lebanon to disarm Hizballah. Instead, the LAF looked the other way when Hizballah spent two years digging subterranean cross-border attack tunnels into Israel. The LAF allowed the import through Lebanon’s international airport of technology, flown in by Iranian planes, to upgrade Hizballah’s projectiles into precision-guided missiles. Hizballah controls large parts of the country, even where the LAF is deployed.
The problem isn’t only a lack of control—it’s collusion. Israel recently exposed a Hizballah precision-rocket facility in eastern Lebanon. The site of the Iran-led project is a short drive away from an LAF base, where the U.S. has delivered equipment, including ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. The base also hosts the U.S.- and UK-funded Land Border Training Center, designed to help the LAF secure Lebanon’s porous border. Hizballah, with Iran’s assistance, built a missile facility next door.
The State Department has long classified Lebanon as a “safe haven for terrorism.” In fact, it is something worse. With the banks, the military, and the government itself answering to a terrorist organization, Lebanon is fully entwined with Hizballah. The Trump administration deserves praise for going after dirty Lebanese banks. It’s time to . . . acknowledge Lebanon as the Hizballah state, and act accordingly.