Limiting Iranian Influence in Lebanon, Hoping to Help Protect Israel
A recent effort by several members of the United States Congress to hold up the transfer of military aid to the Lebanese army may have unintended, and potentially quite negative, consequences for the Middle East. While I think that it is important for the United States to insist that Hezbollah is not indirectly reaping the benefits of this assistance, the idea that the Lebanese army may receive an even greater level of support from Iran as a result is perhaps even more worrisome. A Reuters piece posted on the New York Times website noted that “Iran has provided more than $720 million in assistance to the Lebanese Army since 2006.” In my mind, the last thing the world needs is for that number to increase.
But the US is clearly caught in a tough position here. On the one hand, no matter what the US does, Iran is probably going to continue sending funds to the Lebanese army as well as secretly supplying Hezbollah. On the other hand, if the US withholds this funding, it creates at least a rhetorical vacuum that Iran (and perhaps Syria) will seek to fill. The root problem here is of course that Lebanon remains highly unstable, with the central government exercising little control in the south, where it has effectively ceded civil and military functions to Hezbollah. Worse yet is the possibility, as news reports have suggested, that where the Lebanese government and army are active in the south, they are willing to allow their soldiers to attack IDF personnel seemingly at random.
What is needed here is a strong joint effort by the US Departments of State and Defense to make is clear that if Lebanon wants to become an ally of the United States and receive military aid (or any other form of aid for that matter) from the United States then it cannot engage in hostilities with Israel, another US ally in the region. Perhaps instead of supplying military aid to Lebanon, the US should be helping to bolster UNIFIL and providing economic and political development aid to the Lebanese government. Such a move would not only help to undermine Iranian influence in Lebanon and the broader region, but might even help move Lebanon further along the difficult path to internal stability.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief