Tag Archives: Lebanon

Why should the US care if Hamas moves against Israel from Lebanon?

Source: Getty Images

With Iranian help, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is creating a presence in Hezbollah’s backyard in Lebanon. Should it be of any concern to American security interests that Iran supports both of these terrorist organizations? 

The answer is yes. An emergent and unpredictable Hamas military presence in Lebanon could destabilize the whole region. This is because Hamas may not feel as restrained to act in Lebanon as in Gaza, where it fills the role of being the de facto power. Palestinian Hamas knows it would not primarily bear the consequence of Israeli retaliation for its actions emanating from Lebanon. It does not take much imagination to understand that this could spiral out of control into a regional war — and possibly throw a wrench into America’s pivot toward China.

Read the rest from the Hill.

Should the West support the Lebanese army to counterweight Hezbollah?

LEBANESE ARMED FORCES soldiers are deployed after an ambush on Shi’ite mourners in Khaldeh, Lebanon, on Sunday, August 1, 2021. (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)

Written with Sarit Zehavi for the Jerusalem Post.

Lebanon is on the verge of collapse. There is little reason to believe the latest attempt to form a government will be different from past failures. The harsh reality is that no political or military decision in Lebanon can be made without Hezbollah’s approval.

Yet media reports have indicated that the US and France are considering expanding their military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces to counter Hezbollah’s ever-growing grip on the nation. The warnings of the commander of the LAF, claiming their soldiers have nothing to eat, did not fall upon deaf ears, and it seems that there is a desire to assist them.

This brings us to the question, should the US and France support a weakened LAF as a counterweight to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah?

A July article in The Hill tried to make a case for continued American military assistance to the LAF, claiming that Hezbollah does not influence the LAF and the LAF command structure and special forces remain Western-oriented. The first claim is untrue, and the second may be more wishful thinking than reality.

In 2016, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated the LAF is a partner with the resistance (Hezbollah). In 2017, it was revealed that Yahya Husseini, a commanding officer in the LAF, was also a member of Hezbollah. Israel spotlighted this officer to highlight the widespread exploitation of Shi’ite LAF personal as Hezbollah operatives. In southern Lebanon today, there are joint patrols between the LAF and Hezbollah. Hezbollah members use LAF uniforms to disguise their activities, and the LAF allows Hezbollah to use their observation towers into Israel.

Over the past 15 years, there have been many instances of cooperation between the LAF and Hezbollah. These include assisting with the concealment of Hezbollah’s weapons from UNIFIL in southern Lebanon and collaboration between the two armies’ intelligence units.

Despite its relative weakness and the severe economic and political difficulties the LAF and the Lebanese people have faced, the LAF is still one of the last remaining institutions in Lebanon that the Lebanese people still support.

To understand the LAF, one needs to know that this multi-religious country with long-standing internal rivalries is supposed to be reflected in the demographics of its army. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the number of Christian members in the military compared to Muslims (Shi’ites and Sunnis), with a shift towards Shi’ites, the religion of Hezbollah. Most LAF soldiers in southern Lebanon facing Israel are Shi’ites with likely sympathies for Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Christian and Sunni soldiers are sent to central and northern Lebanon, where there is less Hezbollah control.

So why should the West support the LAF? There is a case to be made for some assistance, but it is not clear-cut or compelling, one of those choices between the lesser of the two evils.

One answer is that ending financial support to the Lebanese Army would likely lead to its collapse and bring on civil war. That alone is a reason to keep the LAF intact, as the chaos that would follow would destabilize an already volatile region.

However, if you expect the LAF to be a counterweight to Hezbollah, you will be sorely disappointed. It would be a mistake to overestimate the strength of the LAF. It is unable and unwilling to confront Hezbollah. It will not fulfill its mandate to disarm Hezbollah or demilitarize the southern Lebanese border with Israel, a constant source of tension and potential for a major regional war.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 explicitly states that the area adjacent to Lebanon’s border with Israel must be “free of any army personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL… requiring the disarmament of all armed groups (Hezbollah)… no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” The LAF is supposed to be responsible for enforcing this, but since the end of the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, the LAF has done nothing to resist Hezbollah’s militarization of southern Lebanon.

In response to what is perceived as squandered American aid to the LAF, a bipartisan resolution in the US House of Representatives is being circulated that demands Lebanon’s adherence to UNSC 1701. The resolution calls for a report to demonstrate how American national security interests are advanced by assistance to the LAF and “how such assistance contributes to stability in the Middle East.”

For those advocating some assistance, they must not overstate their goals, which should be:

1. Keep the LAF from being completely turned into a vassal of Iran’s Hezbollah

2. Prevent the collapse of the Lebanese state by keeping the LAF functional

3. Keep America on the doorstep of Lebanon by supporting the LAF in case things change over time

4. Ensure LAF’s ethnic makeup (percentage of Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Christians) be honored

5. Verifiable mechanism to prevent LAF weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah

The reality is that Hezbollah is stronger than the state of Lebanon, both militarily and politically; taking advantage of the nation’s dysfunction to commandeer its financial resources, Hezbollah uses intimidation and violence to exert its power. It has a worldwide money laundering and drug network, extending from South America to Europe to support its terrorist infrastructure, not to mention its financial support from its patron, Iran.

Hezbollah will only grow in influence if the US ends sanctions on Iran as part of rejoining the Iran nuclear deal. Hezbollah uses its comprehensive civilian social services to replace Lebanon’s non-functioning services in a nation with massive debt and poverty, forcing Lebanese civilians to be indebted to Hezbollah.

If America and France choose to end military aid, Iran and Russia will fill the vacuum the West leaves behind. It is undoubtedly not optimal, but the assistance allows the West to stay in the game, especially with the future unpredictable and the possibility for some leverage down the road.

But the US must get more bang for its buck without expecting more than is possible at this time. The LAF cannot be an alternative to Hezbollah unless the Lebanese people rise and demand a change. It is impossible to expect the LAF to end its cooperation with Hezbollah completely or significantly slow the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah from Iran.

What types of aid will be helpful?

With chaos everywhere in Lebanon, providing riot-control armaments that cannot be used offensively against Israel should be considered. It must be assumed that every weapon given to the LAF can fall into the hands of Hezbollah or be used against the IDF if there will be war between Israel and Lebanon. US military and police trainers could work with the LAF to teach them how to protect protesters from agitators.

Humanitarian aid is needed, but it cannot be funneled through Hezbollah intermediaries. Since corruption is endemic in Lebanon, America and France should demand the right to monitor all monies transferred and verify the location of all weapons given. No compromises whatsoever should be made on this.

Managing expectations is the only way to justify American support to the LAF. Lebanon is a “state within the State of Hezbollah.” It is evident that even though there are areas in Lebanon in which Hezbollah is less present, no political or economic decision in Lebanon can be made without Hezbollah’s consent. So the aid given to the LAF must not be passed onto other parties. The US and France need to ensure that the LAF does not become an Iranian or Russian puppet or provide it with weapons.

But the choice to end support at this time will only strengthen Iran’s hold on the country. A good compromise would be to offer humanitarian aid but withhold any dual-purpose military assistance until the LAF delivers on some very modest demands.

Does the Biden administration believe Iran is behind most Shia militias?

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

{Previously published in JNS}

A controversy that occurred during a recent question-and-answer session for reporters by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby may have revealed a troubling insight into the Biden administration’s approach in rebranding Iran’s problematic image. He claimed that Shia militias that are causing so much trouble in the Middle East are not Iranian-controlled. After criticism made its way into the public arena, Kirby partially walked back his statement in a subsequent press conference, agreeing that some Shia militias are Iranian-backed. Was this a Freudian slip, a trial balloon or a real insight into administration thinking?

There is a well-documented history of the Obama-Biden administration misleading the public about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Therefore, it is prudent to ask if Kirby’s first answer to a softball question that should not have flustered an experienced spokesperson was an accurate representation of the administration’s thinking. It’s all part of a strategy to create the illusion that the Islamic Republic is not responsible for supporting the majority of Shia militias throughout the Middle East in the hopes that in preparing the ground to rejoin JCPOA, Iran will be more palatable to the U.S. public.

So a primer on Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militias and what the administration is doing is in order.

What Kirby may have been attempting to do is frame the situation as an internal ethnic conflict between Shi’ite groups who are independent of Iranian influence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Iran’s strategy is to create Iranian-controlled militias in the region’s crumbling nations to exert control and undermine U.S. interests while threatening American allies.

Statements like Kirby’s intensify Israel’s well-founded fears that America wants to pretend it doesn’t see Iran’s malign activity. Instead, the administration chooses to put all of its eggs in the JCPOA basket, focusing on the nuclear issue while ignoring Islamic imperialism. Almost no serious military or intelligence analyst believes the Islamic Republic of Iran does not control Shia militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or Syria (local militias). Iran’s hegemonic ambitions carried out through its proxy network are a threat to be taken seriously.

A not-so-subtle warning for Israel not to attack Iran was posted by the White House in its Interim National Security Guidelines. The administration stated, “We do not believe that military force is the answer. … We will not give our partners in the Middle East a blank check to pursue policies at odds with American interests.” Is that a warning not to attack Iran in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon?

As in Lebanon, Iran is slowly swallowing Syria and Iraq. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is the dominant military force while effectively controlling its parliament. Iranian symbols appear everywhere, as though you were walking in Tehran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani was commemorated this year throughout the country with a massive statue placed in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut. At rallies, Lebanese citizens under Hezbollah’s thumb wave the Iranian flag, not the Lebanese one.

What is groundbreaking in Syria is that Iran not only sent its IRGC troops with its Hezbollah proxy but has now recruited former Syrian rebels of local Sunni militias to create a permanent Iranian presence. The blueprint is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Iran’s goal is to surround Israel with its militias, proxies and allies, including Sunnis who are easily bought for money, bread or ammunition. Just think of the Sunni Arab Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip working with Persian Shi’ite Iran.

Alma, Israel’s best source for independent research on its northern border, has documented Iran’s support and control of Hezbollah, Shia militias, and now Iranian-controlled former rebel Sunni militias. This is groundbreaking information. The militias receive orders and salaries from Iran in conjunction with a well-thought-out civilian investment to support a long-term Iranian military entrenchment. In this way, Iran effectively takes control of weak nation-states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. For example, Iran is heavily involved in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, buying agricultural land, establishing community and educational centers to promote the Islamic Revolution’s values among the local Sunni population.

One should bear in mind that the IRGC’s Quds force’s raison d’être since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s is to spread the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East while backing almost every terrorist Shia militia to further its goal. Thousands of IRCG soldiers and commanders operate beyond Iran’s borders, leading and strategizing on how to get the United States out of the Middle East and put Israel out of existence.

This is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist,” which gives absolute religious authority to the Iranian Supreme Leader, who is in charge of the world’s Shi’ites. Shias are thereby obligated to support the Islamic revolution everywhere in the world. The Biden administration should be cautious replacing radical Sunnis like ISIS and Al-Qaeda with extremist Iranian Shi’ism.

More than half of the pieces are in place to surround Israel. Next on the target list is the West Bank and Jordan to surround Israel with the threat of missiles and militias under Iranian control. All in preparation for a day when Islamist Iran unleashes its proxies to devastate Israeli civilians and destroy Israel’s infrastructure, with the hope that Israelis will abandon the Zionist experiment.

Going forward, U.S President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should make clear the obvious. Iran is responsible for Shia militias’ creation and actions that threaten Middle East stability and American soldiers’ lives, and that rejoining the JCPOA should not obscure that fact.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

America Needs to Impose Consequences for Working with Iran

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel and Seth J. Frantzman

{Previously published in the JNS}

Why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

Speaking at the summit of United Against Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not only outlined all of Iran’s malevolent behaviors—from “murdering and torturing their own people, to killing Americans from Lebanon to Iraq, to harboring Al-Qaeda” while “protecting, hiding and preserving their nuclear know-how”—more consequentially warned nations that we will “sanction every violation of sanctionable activity” when it comes to Iranian trespasses.

So why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

President Donald Trump has touted his maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran and its main proxy Hezbollah, claiming that it is the best way to undermine Iran. He has also avoided a kinetic military response to Iran’s many provocations against international law, including their attacks against shipping in international waters, the high-jacking of a British oil tanker and the attack against two major Saudi oil facilities, which was called an “act of war” by Pompeo.

Yet when it comes to the Iraqi and Lebanese governments who work with Iranian-controlled militias, consequences are not imposed. The prevailing logic is that these nations are too weak, and if we put pressure on their fragile governments, we will push them into the arms of Iran.

The evidence suggests otherwise, being more akin to a failed strategy that must be re-evaluated if our goal is to create some distance between Iran and those nations for the long term, while making any headway into stopping Iran from completing its land corridor controlling Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while threatening Jordan, Israel and our Gulf allies. Iran views this American policy towards Iraq and Lebanon as a sign of weakness—something to take advantage of.

So when U.S. Assistant Secretary for Terrorism Financing Marshall Billingslea met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and told him that according to AFP, increased U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah “will not target groups who are only tied to Hezbollah politically,’ “easing concern that the groups political allies, including [Lebanese] President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Berri’s Anal Movement could be targeted,” it leaves you scratching your head to understand the logic.

David Schenker, Washington’s Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, said “in the future, we will designate … individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of what their sect or religion is.”

So why do Aoun’s and Berri’s groups get a pass?

This policy is both contradictory and a counterproductive strategy for America’s stated goal of applying maximum pressure on Iran. It is based on the same failed logic European nations employ that allows Hezbollah’s “political” operatives to fundraise on European soil, knowing full well that the money ends up supporting terror in the treasury of Hezbollah’s military wing, a designated terrorist organization.

Ending this disingenuous legal fiction in Europe should be a priority of American policy. We should not use it to give cover to Lebanese or Iraqi political parties, ending the false distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, or of Iraqi’s Shi’ite militias and Shi’ite political parties.

In Iraq, America has allowed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-controlled Shi’ite militias to be incorporated into the Iraqi military without any protest or consequences. We don’t know if American economic pressure with the threat of withholding aid for the Iraqi government would have worked, but what we do know with certainty is that the Iraqi government and military are dominated by Iran, with those Iranian Shi’ite militias controlling vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, connecting them to the strongest Iranian militia: Hezbollah in Lebanon.

American strategists also know that if U.S. troops leave Iraq, the sectarian war is likely to be reignited sooner than later, which is part of the logic to not make waves with the Iranian entrenchment into the Iraqi military and government.

It should be remembered that Iran controls Hezbollah; they are for practical purposes one and the same. We should not differentiate the political world of the Supreme leader from the IRGC, and we shouldn’t play a game claiming that just because a terrorist organization like Hezbollah provides humanitarian services, you can separate its many tentacles. For a Western mind, separation of church and state is logical. In this part of the world, however, religion and state are intertwined, as are the military and political activates of the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah.

The AFP said the United States “encourage(s) Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance” from Hezbollah.

The worst way to help Lebanon create separation from Hezbollah is to facilitate the continued cooperation of Lebanese Sunni, Druze and Christian political leaders, while not penalizing them for working with Hezbollah.

It is certainly true that Hezbollah is in charge of Lebanon with veto power for all important military decisions, despite some members of Congress pretending that the LAF and other political groups are somehow independent of Hezbollah’s heavy hand.

America has a misguided strategy for the Middle East, thinking that if it puts consequences on nations or political organizations that work with Iran or Hezbollah, it will push them into the arms of the Shi’ite theocracy.

It’s time to tell Baghdad that America won’t support your actions if you continue to get in bed with Iran, and in Lebanon, it’s time to do the same—first, by stopping U.S. military aid to the LAF and converting it to humanitarian aid unless they commit to tangibly distance themselves from Hezbollah and Iran. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must start on that path.

The challenges and risks of this strategy are real, but worth the risk. In Iraq, we should tell Mahdi that America needs a reliable ally, so we are going to independently send weapons to the Kurdistan Peshmegar, who have stood with the United States for more than 25 years, and hold the Iraqi government accountable for not sending money Baghdad is constitutionally obligated to send to the Kurdistan government. In Lebanon, we must lay down a clear marker that working with Iran and Hezbollah in any form crosses the line, and that consequences will follow.

Americans don’t want their taxpayer dollars supporting terror, even indirectly, and aid to Iraq and Lebanon that doesn’t aim to separate those nations from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is an indirect form of helping Iran.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Seth J. Frantzman is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. A former assistant professor of American Studies at Al-Quds University, he covers the Middle East for “The Jerusalem Post” and is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of “After ISIS: How Defeating the Caliphate Changed the Middle East Forever.”