U.S. gives Lebanese military weapons worth $11.7 Million, will this empower Hezbollah?

by The Region    

 

The United States has provided the Lebanese military with an $11.7 million worth shipment of ammunition, grenade launchers, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The wording of the statement released by the United States, which stated that the arms shipments were a US strategy to ensure that the Lebanese army becomes a "nationally unifying force, a bulwark against extremism and terrorism, and the only legitimate defender of Lebanon", seems to indicate that the United States hopes to curb the influence of Hezbollah in the small and politically volatile country of Lebanon.

According to the Saudi daily newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, the U.S. delivery included 827 Copperhead artillery rounds, and two hundred MK-19 Automatic Grenade Launchers. 

The shipments came shortly after David Satterfield, acting assistant U.S. Secretary of State, told participants in Tel Aviv University's INSS think-tank, that the United States would continue "to support legitimate state security institutions in Lebanon, such as the Lebanese Armed Forces, which is the only legitimate force in Lebanon". In a rare public rebuke, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted that "all of Lebanon -- the Lebanese army, Lebanon and the Lebanese army -- are no different from Hezbollah", before threatening a "defensive" war against Lebanon.

"They are part of Hezbollah and they will all pay the full price", he said, in reference to any attack conducted by Lebanon on Israeli territory.

Last year, on February 12, 2018, speaking to the Egyptian daily, Ahram, Lebanese President Michel Aoun declared that "Hezbollah is a significant part of the Lebanese people ... As long as Israel occupies land and covets Lebanon's natural treasures, and as long as the Lebanese military lacks the power to stand up to Israel, [Hezbollah's] weapons are essential. They complement, rather than contradict, the army's activity."

Michel Aoun, the Christian President of Lebanon has close ties to Hezbollah, whereas the Sunni Muslim Hariri, Prime Minister of Lebanon, is more aligned with the interests of Iran's foe in the region, Saudi Arabia. Hariri is very critical of the influence of Hezbollah in the country.

The commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is always a Christian, and the chief of staff must be a Druze. Shia members of the military comprise 25% of total staff, while Christians make up another 25%, and Sunni/Druze members hold the rest of the positions. It is, therefore, highly unlikely, that the LAF is synonymous with Hezbollah. The LAF, however, must at times either compete or complement the activities of Hezbollah, which is larger and more battle-hardened than Lebanon's military, especially after gaining experience in the Syrian civil war. 

On July 20, 2017, Hezbollah launched a campaign to expel Jabhat al-Nusra from the Syria/Lebanon border areas. Soon afterwards, the LAF launched a similar campaign. Both insisted that they operated autonomously from each other. Many analysts did not believe this to be the case. 

"Hezbollah's decision to take on JAN militants militarily placed the LAF in an all but untenable position. " a report by Center for Strategic and International Studies notes. "If the LAF failed to act against ISIS [and Jabhat al-Nusra] it would have been accused of kowtowing to Hezbollah. Conversely, in committing to confronting the militants, it risked accusations of collusion with the Shia militant group."

This is where Israeli and U.S. policy on Hezbollah differs. On the one end, Israel believes that empowering the LAF means empowering Hezbollah, and by extension, empowering Iran. The United States believes that the failure to empower LAF would mean that Hezbollah would continue to fill a vacuum that it is already beginning to occupy. According to Washington, to not empower LAF in other words, is to empower Hezbollah's capacity to make the LAF redundant. And Washington is afraid of the possibility that with continuous expansion, Hezbollah could virtually become the officially armed wing of the Lebanese state.  

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