Over the weekend, pictures of a Hezbollah parade in the Syrian city of Qusayr showed Hezbollah fighters using American-made M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs). If the vehicles were transferred by the Lebanese Armed Forces, a recipient of U.S. aid and equipment, to Hezbollah, as some analysts have speculated, the consequences could be significant. After all, the purpose of American support for the LAF is to strengthen it to fight terrorism, which includes Hezbollah. However, this recent episode highlights the fact that the Lebanese military is simply an auxiliary of a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Hezbollah parade in Qusayr features multiple US-made M113 APCs with mounted ZPU-2 (left), most likely source: Lebanese Armed Forces (right). pic.twitter.com/FwOtlfGppw— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) November 13, 2016
Lebanon is the fifth largest recipient of American military aid, receiving $220 million in 2016, including an August shipment that included 50 armored vehicles. If the M113s, or any other weapons, were transferred to Hezbollah, the State Department is obliged to notify Congress. Indeed, even if the APCs are part of a U.S. package from an earlier period, it still requires notification.
Some analysts believe that the APCs may be a vestige of the Lebanese civil war, 1975-1990. The LAF split into factions and various militias walked away with its equipment. Also, Israel gave some of the U.S.-made vehicles over to their local ally, the South Lebanese Army. After Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah moved into the security zone and took over the SLA’s arsenal, including M113s. Hezbollah was supposed to turn all its arms over to the Lebanese government, i.e., the army, but clearly never did.
In spite of several United Nations Security Council resolutions (most recently 1559 and 1701) requiring Hezbollah, and any other militias, to disarm, the party of God has held on to its arms. Today, it has an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel, while it fields an expeditionary force in Syria. Through its continued support of the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Obama administration has supported Hezbollah.
The 2016 appropriations bill to Lebanon stipulated that military aid must be used “to professionalize the LAF and to strengthen border security and combat terrorism, including training and equipping the LAF to secure Lebanon’s borders, interdicting arms shipments, preventing the use of Lebanon as a safe haven for terrorist groups.” The military assistance was also intended to help Lebanon “implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701“—namely, disarming Hezbollah and helping the government of Lebanon take full control of all its territory.
The parade in Qusayr shows that the opposite is the case. U.S. funding has done nothing to enhance the LAF’s ability to assert the sovereignty of the Beirut government, and instead has enhanced Hezbollah’s ability to wage war in Syria. Indeed, the point of the parade was to show that Hezbollah runs parts of Syrian terrain as well—with the help of the LAF.
Or, let’s say the LAF didn’t transfer the M113s and Hezbollah got them from the abandoned SLA arsenal. The army is still responsible because it did nothing to stop the party of God as it took the equipment to the Syrian border and then across it. The U.N. Security Council resolutions were intended to ensure Lebanese sovereignty and sever Hezbollah’s pipeline to Syria. Instead, the LAF, with the support of the White House, has helped Hezbollah violate Lebanese sovereignty, as well as Syria’s, for that matter. The Lebanese Armed Forces is incapable of fulfilling any part of the requirements laid out in the appropriations bill. And that’s not simply because it’s an incompetent force, but rather because it’s under Hezbollah’s control.
As Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains: “The LAF is actively aiding Hezbollah in its war effort in Syria. This assistance has ranged from participation in shelling positions across the border in the Qalamoun region in Syria, to securing Hezbollah’s homefront. This includes patrolling and securing logistical routes and the transfer of Hezbollah materiel and personnel into Syria, monitoring and raiding Syrian refugee camps, and closing off Lebanese areas and towns on the border with Syria.”
In the past, American officials have seen the LAF as the only card Washington has to play in Lebanon. But it is no longer possible to see the army as anything but a Hezbollah asset. This is why Saudi Arabia canceled its $3 billion pledge to the LAF in February—because it is impossible to ignore that, thanks to its synergistic relation with Hezbollah, the LAF is part of the pro-Iran axis. Therefore, in continuing to support the Lebanese army, the Obama White House is actively supporting the pro-Iran axis in the Syrian conflict. And this is part of a larger regional pattern, evident in Iraq as well, where Iranian-backed Shiite militias are also using American-made military equipment.
As Badran explains: “The White House has presented the policy as partnering with ‘state institutions’ in order to fight terrorism—which means in this instance Sunni terrorism. In Lebanon and Iraq, these ‘institutions’ are thoroughly penetrated and/or dominated by assets of Iran’s revolutionary guards. Thus, support for these ‘state institutions‘—the LAF, the Iraqi army—is cover for a policy that enhances Iranian interests around the region.”
If the LAF transferred those M113s to Hezbollah, the United States cannot continue to support the LAF—it’s against the law. And if the APCs were taken from the SLA arsenals, it still illustrates that the Lebanese Armed Forces are incapable of fulfilling the terms of the appropriations bill—the LAF gets U.S. aid in order to seize Hezbollah weapons and establish full control of Lebanon. Instead, the army partners with a designated foreign terrorist organization, which it allows to roll tanks around the country. Whether the Lebanese Armed Forces are unable to do so or simply unwilling, the point remains the same: the Lebanese army is not using the U.S. assistance for the purpose it was provided.
In either case, Congress should move immediately to defund the Lebanese Armed Forces.