Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Problem of the Lebanese Army

by Elliott Abrams
February 23, 2017


Should the United States be giving military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)? According to the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon (speaking last summer),  “In this year alone we provided over $221 million in equipment and training to the Lebanese security forces.” That number presumably includes aid to Lebanon’s police and Internal Security Forces, but given the small size of the country it is a hefty sum.

Lebanon is a friendly country, an ally against jihadi groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, and a sort of democracy. But it is also the home of the terrorist group Hezbollah, which largely dominates its politics and makes its democracy a sometime thing. It’s fair to say that nothing happens in Lebanon without Hezbollah’s approval, no matter how elections turn out.

Lebanon’s new president is legitimizing Hezbollah’s military role–which is independent from control by the Lebanese state (despite repeated UN Security Council resolutions demanding that there be no militias in Lebanon outside state control). The collaboration between Hezbollah and the LAF may be growing: a Times of Israel article on February 12 about the Lebanon/Israel border area said “On the Israeli side, officials are following, almost in astonishment, the deepening cooperation between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.” Lebanese President Michel Aoun responded by saying of Hezbollah “As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence.” When Israel’s UN envoy wrote to the UN Security Council about Hezbollah violations of resolutions concerning Lebanon, the response from Aoun’s office was “Any attempt to hurt Lebanese sovereignty or expose the Lebanese to danger will find the appropriate response.”

So, Aoun appears to be defining Hezbollah’s interests as Lebanon’s interests, and defining Hezbollah not as a militia whose existence clearly violates UN Security Council resolutions but rather as a necessary defense against Israel. In fact he said more: that Hezbollah is needed to “battle” Israel.

Such rhetoric may be dismissed as a price the Christian president must pay, if it is only rhetoric. More dangerous is the news that cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army may be increasing. In this context, should U.S. aid to the LAF continue? I find it a difficult question. Stopping the aid might only further weaken the LAF, which is not under Hezbollah command–though it certainly refuses to confront the terrorist group. The commander of the LAF is always a Christian and the chief of staff is always a Druze, and the Global Security web site suggests that Shia Lebanese “comprise 25% of the enlisted ranks. At the same time, the Army was able to bring the Christians to 25% and the Sunni/Druze component to 50% of the enlisted ranks.”  It can be argued that weakening the LAF could further weaken non-Hezbollah influence in Lebanon.

If it is true that LAF-Hezbollah cooperation is increasing, the United States should demand that that trend be halted and reversed. It is one thing for the LAF to refuse to confront Hezbollah, and quite another to assist it in any way. Our aid should give us the leverage to achieve that much. My own bottom line for now is that we should not end aid to the LAF, but should make it very clear that this aid is in danger. Lebanese officials must come to realize that even if the withholding of aid weakens the LAF, that’s the inevitable outcome unless they keep farther away from Hezbollah than current trends appear to suggest.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Michel Abou Abdallah, MD.

    I agree with the content. I fully agree with the conclusion / recommendation . The US Government should keep an eye on the appointment of the Chief Commander of LAF.

  • Posted by jon steelman

    the point in time risk analysis is whether the LAF/non-Hezbollah is more likely to survive as such with continued American support, or without it. it’s probably the wrong question.

    but strategic analysis of the regional picture – near-to-interim future – includes increasing likelihood of a broader conflict at some yet undefined point involving Syria, Kurds, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and/or Russia – in any combination – vs. ISIS, Syrian rebels, Kurds et al., and whether our interests (and Israel?) are better served by teaching LAF a lesson now to tighten up its nationalist position vs. Hezbollah, or to wait for that regional conflict to see who survives; if Hezbollah is decimated by such conflict and/or conflict with Israel over shipping in offensive materiel, this almost requires status quo. with an imminent change militarily by US activity in the region, that conflict could flare up. do we hold out hope that regional conflict will weaken Hezbollah in favor of the LAF and Lebanon and thus put off reduction/elimination of support of LAF at this point?

    Status quo is safer in many ways, though the man in the WH might have other views.

  • Posted by Mike

    Hezbollah is not a terrorist group. The US/israeli definition of a terrorist organization is simply any group who tries to protect it’s own nation state against plunder and meddling. Thus Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group even though they are NOT.

  • Posted by fouad

    Having said, “Lebanon is a friendly country, an ally against jihadi groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, and a sort of democracy. But it is also the home of the terrorist group Hezbollah, which largely dominates its politics and makes its democracy a sometime thing.”, you seem to have forgotten the role of Hezbollah in liberating the Christian sanctuaries, villages, and towns in Syria and Iraq. You are one of the following: Either misinformed, disinformed or playing a role that never suits intellectual people.
    As for the social interwoven fabric of the Army and Hezbollah, you sound totally one of the 3 descriptions above.
    As for the doctrine of national security and defense, the natural historical notion of national safety has developed our national present cooperation because we are all natives on the same boat.
    Talking of our President’s stance, you seem to dislike for others what you like for yourselves. Are you a real zealous national in your country?

  • Posted by ahmad

    THE analysis is understandable from the AMERICAN interest’s point of view, but not from a rational one.in maths, we learned that (-)x(-)=(+),then, who fights terror is not a terrorist unless ISIS is your friend or your puppet.

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