Suspend military aid to Lebanon now

Switzerland took a lot of us by surprise last week when it announced a suspension of arms exports to Lebanon, mostly high-end firearms provided to the personal security teams that protect high-ranking Lebanese officials.  Being responsible merchants of death, the Swiss typically require that recipients submit to routine inspections to ensure that the weapons aren’t passed on to terrorists.

Well, pro-Syrian Shiite MP Ghazi Zeaiter flunked one of these inspections badly last year, failing to produce 31 of the 40 automatic and semi-automatic rifles purchased for his security detail when he headed the Ministry of Public Works and Transport three years ago, and has been ducking the Swiss ever since.  “We sold to a ministry, a government institution,” a senior official at the Swiss Embassy in Beirut later explained. “If the Lebanese government can’t guarantee the contractual obligations they agreed upon, we have to take action.”

That’s the damn truth, and I hope Washington is listening.  The U.S. has provided about $1.7 billion worth of weapons and other aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) since 2005, and the LAF has most certainly failed to abide by its contractual obligations.  U.S. congressional legislation prohibits the LAF from receiving aid if it is controlled by a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization and requires that the aid be used “only 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, and to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701,” which calls on the Lebanese government to extend its “control… over all Lebanese territory” and “exercise its full sovereignty.”

Far from acting to discharge these obligations, the LAF has operated as an auxiliary of the Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist Hezb’allah.  Indeed, LAF doctrine formally recognizes the so-called “resistance” as vital to the defense of Lebanon, and the LAF officer corps is steeped in pro-Hezb’allah culture.  The LAF even has a system of kangaroo military tribunals used to suppress criticism of its pro-Hezb’allah orientation.

Lebanon’s political class, not wanting to suffer the same fate as the late Rafiq Hariri and others killed for defying Hezb’allah, kowtows to the group, giving it -- among many other things -- the power to vet appointments and promotions in the LAF officer corps.  And that’s not going to change.

Today, Hezb’allah is a bigger threat than ever. It has stockpiled an estimated 100,000-150,000 rockets capable of striking targets in Israel.  No longer confined to Lebanon, Hezb’allah has intervened heavily in the Syrian civil war and playing a significant role organizing and training Shiite militias in Iraq.  The LAF is effectively a partner is all of this.

And yet the Pentagon continues to deepen its relationship with the LAF, maintaining that U.S. military aid is vital to “stemming the influence of Iran and Hezb'allah in the region.” In April 2018, senior State Department official David Satterfield testified that the U.S. even has “personnel working closely with and in the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

Trump has made great progress tightening sanctions on both Hezb’allah and its Iranian sponsors.  But if the president is serious about freeing Lebanon from its grip, he must treat the Lebanese government as the terror-sponsoring state it has become and stop supplying it with weapons -- most recently a $16 million shipment of laser-guided rockets earlier this month -- that will be used only to fight Hezb’allah’s enemies.  We shouldn’t need the Swiss to tell us that.

Ziad Abdelnour is CEO of the New York-based private equity firm Blackhawk Partners,  chairman of the Financial Policy Council, and author of "Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics" (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @blackhawkinc.

Switzerland took a lot of us by surprise last week when it announced a suspension of arms exports to Lebanon, mostly high-end firearms provided to the personal security teams that protect high-ranking Lebanese officials.  Being responsible merchants of death, the Swiss typically require that recipients submit to routine inspections to ensure that the weapons aren’t passed on to terrorists.

Well, pro-Syrian Shiite MP Ghazi Zeaiter flunked one of these inspections badly last year, failing to produce 31 of the 40 automatic and semi-automatic rifles purchased for his security detail when he headed the Ministry of Public Works and Transport three years ago, and has been ducking the Swiss ever since.  “We sold to a ministry, a government institution,” a senior official at the Swiss Embassy in Beirut later explained. “If the Lebanese government can’t guarantee the contractual obligations they agreed upon, we have to take action.”

That’s the damn truth, and I hope Washington is listening.  The U.S. has provided about $1.7 billion worth of weapons and other aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) since 2005, and the LAF has most certainly failed to abide by its contractual obligations.  U.S. congressional legislation prohibits the LAF from receiving aid if it is controlled by a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization and requires that the aid be used “only 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, and to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701,” which calls on the Lebanese government to extend its “control… over all Lebanese territory” and “exercise its full sovereignty.”

Far from acting to discharge these obligations, the LAF has operated as an auxiliary of the Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist Hezb’allah.  Indeed, LAF doctrine formally recognizes the so-called “resistance” as vital to the defense of Lebanon, and the LAF officer corps is steeped in pro-Hezb’allah culture.  The LAF even has a system of kangaroo military tribunals used to suppress criticism of its pro-Hezb’allah orientation.

Lebanon’s political class, not wanting to suffer the same fate as the late Rafiq Hariri and others killed for defying Hezb’allah, kowtows to the group, giving it -- among many other things -- the power to vet appointments and promotions in the LAF officer corps.  And that’s not going to change.

Today, Hezb’allah is a bigger threat than ever. It has stockpiled an estimated 100,000-150,000 rockets capable of striking targets in Israel.  No longer confined to Lebanon, Hezb’allah has intervened heavily in the Syrian civil war and playing a significant role organizing and training Shiite militias in Iraq.  The LAF is effectively a partner is all of this.

And yet the Pentagon continues to deepen its relationship with the LAF, maintaining that U.S. military aid is vital to “stemming the influence of Iran and Hezb'allah in the region.” In April 2018, senior State Department official David Satterfield testified that the U.S. even has “personnel working closely with and in the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

Trump has made great progress tightening sanctions on both Hezb’allah and its Iranian sponsors.  But if the president is serious about freeing Lebanon from its grip, he must treat the Lebanese government as the terror-sponsoring state it has become and stop supplying it with weapons -- most recently a $16 million shipment of laser-guided rockets earlier this month -- that will be used only to fight Hezb’allah’s enemies.  We shouldn’t need the Swiss to tell us that.

Ziad Abdelnour is CEO of the New York-based private equity firm Blackhawk Partners,  chairman of the Financial Policy Council, and author of "Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics" (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @blackhawkinc.