Why Not Apply the Pakistan Precedent and Suspend Military Assistance to Lebanon?
There is negligible chance that the U.S. security assistance, as it stands, can advance the goal of turning the LAF into the sole defender of Lebanon. This goal has in practice been all but written off, even by Hezbollah’s domestic and regional opponents. Given this reality, Saudi Arabia, the one-time sponsor of the March 14 anti-Hezbollah coalition, retracted on its pledge of $4 billion in military support for Lebanon.
Prevent the Renewal of Armed Conflict between Hezbollah and Israel
Since 2006, Hezbollah has engaged in a massive arms buildup dispersed throughout all of Lebanon, including in South Lebanon. Under the acquiescence of Beirut, Hezbollah has nullified the terms of UNSCR 1701 for the establishment between the border with Israel (the Blue Line) and the Litani River “of an area free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.” It has added instability in this volatile area by heavily weaponizing southern Lebanon and constructing military infrastructure there, especially in urban areas.
The ongoing military and intelligence cooperation between the LAF and Hezbollah extend into southern Lebanon. This has raised concerns in Israel that in the event of a future war, the LAF may take on an auxiliary military role alongside Hezbollah. This combined with the legitimacy that Beirut has bestowed on Hezbollah as a defender of Lebanon has led some in Israel to warn that in the event of a future military confrontation, force would be used not only against Hezbollah but also against Lebanon itself, including against the LAF.
As the United States evaluates the merits and the faults of its continued security assistance to Lebanon, it is clear that the government of Lebanon is actively undermining the LAF’s position as the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon and deliberately refrains from exercising its sovereignty over southern Lebanon.
The Pakistan Precedent
Islamabad’s failure to take “decisive action” against militant groups that are destabilizing the region and targeting U.S. personnel was cited by the Trump administration as the justification for suspending most of the American security assistance to Pakistan.
The United States has much more to lose in Pakistan than in Lebanon. Pakistan could retaliate by closing the supply lines for material into Afghanistan and/or strengthening its relations with China. Even so, the administration has chosen to press Pakistan to stop its destabilizing regional role.
The American step will probably fail to significantly change Pakistan’s behavior because of its perception of regional realities. However, neither would continuing with the military assistance have changed Islamabad’s behavior. Rather, it represents an attempt to send a clear message that partnership with the United States is not unconditional and it is unacceptable to receive aid and then work against U.S. regional interests. This type of accountability is a standard that should also be applied to Lebanon.
As with Pakistan, suspending U.S. military assistance to Lebanon will not cause Beirut to significantly change its policies given Hezbollah’s ability to co-opt Lebanon into serving Iran’s political and military goals. But neither will it provoke major instability in Lebanon or a reorientation towards an overt alliance either with Iran or Russia. What it would do is to underscore that Beirut’s duplicity, that undermines America’s regional policy, will not be supported with U.S. resources.
Shimon Arad is a retired colonel from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). His last position (2011–2016), was Head of the Strategic Planning Unit in the Political-Military and Policy Bureau of the Israeli Ministry of Defense ([email protected]).
Image: Lebanese army soldiers take part in a parade at a military academy marking the 72nd Army Day in Fayadyeh, near Beirut, August 1, 2017. REUTERS/ Aziz Taher