Last month, news broke that the U.S. was withholding military aid earmarked for Lebanon, inviting speculation about a putative policy shift in the Trump administration and then criticism by those who deemed such a shift ill-advised. The aid was released by December 2, and it turned out that the holdup was purely bureaucratic in nature. But, writes Tony Badran, the arguments put forth in favor of continued support for the Lebanese military remain unconvincing, and an actual change of policy would be welcome:
For the past seven years, as Hizballah prosecuted its war in Syria, the Lebanese military coordinated closely with it and protected the group’s rear and logistical routes. During battles in eastern Lebanon against Syrian militants in 2017, the Lebanese military deployed jointly with Hizballah and provided it with fire support, using U.S.-supplied munitions and systems.
When Israel uncovered Hizballah cross-border attack tunnels late last year, Lebanon’s military denied the United Nations interim force in the country access to the sites for inspection. Hizballah sites for upgrading rockets into precision missiles are situated near Lebanese military bases that receive U.S. aid.
With the eruption of protests in mid-October, backers of the aid [claimed that] supporting the Lebanese military is critical because it protects the protesters against attacks by Hizballah’s thugs. . . . In some cases, the Lebanese military [indeed] stood between protesters and [Hizballah] goons, although it did not disarm or arrest those goons. In other cases, it either stood aside and did nothing, especially in Shiite areas and in Beirut, or it actively broke up protests, forcibly reopened roads blocked by the demonstrators, or harassed, arrested, and roughed [them] up.
[More importantly, however], the statutory basis for U.S. aid is not grounded in whether Lebanese forces protect protesters, but in what the forces are doing to disarm Hizballah [as required by UN Security Council resolutions]: nothing. It’s not just because [particular] units or commanders are under Hizballah’s sway. It’s because the government and political order in which the Lebanese military operates is run by Hizballah. . . . The people in Lebanon today are protesting against this very political order, the same one U.S. policy is predicated on stabilizing and propping up.