TEL AVIV: Don’t give Lebanon weapons that can be used against us, Israel is asking Washington, adding a new wrinkle to the $105 million in Foreign Military Financing that had been withheld without notice by the Trump administration.
The Office of Management and Budget director failed to answer questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee about why the Trump administration froze the aid. It may have come at the behest of Israeli sources, who media have reported have been lobbying the US to withhold the aid since summer.
A senior Israeli defense source who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Washington has not realized that the Hezbollah is Iran’s very strong proxy and that supplying weapons to such an organization that actually is calling the shots in Lebanon is sheer stupidity.”
In particular, the Israeli sources say anti-tank missiles and drones should be barred from any military aid.
The drumbeat of criticism was consistent among close observers of Israeli military policy. Amos Gilad, former director of policy and political-military affairs at the Ministry of Defense, told Breaking Defense that the military aid to Lebanon has been a dilemma in recent years “Since the Hezbollah terror organization actually controls the country , the military assistance should be limited to weapons systems that cannot be used against Israel”
Giora Eiland, former head of the Israeli National Security Council, told Breaking Defense the assistance should be given under strict restrictions: “Lebanon is controlled by a terror organization and therefore the U.S security assistance should not include items that can harm Israel.”
The Israeli government has struggled with how to explain to Washington that military support to the Lebanese army is actually helping Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, which the Israeli government argues controls Lebanon. Many American Middle East experts share a less absolute view, pointing to the Lebanese army as one of that country’s only institutions that is multi-ethnic and includes members of most of the country’s religious groupings. Bolstering it, they argue, provides Israel with a buffer against Syria and, thus, Iran.
Mordechai Kedar, a research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies considered one of the leading experts on Middle East issues, says unequivocally that Hezbollah controls Lebanon. “The organization controls the country’s presidency. No president was elected during two years until the candidate was approved by the Hezbollah. It controls the government, the army and everything else.”
Kedar added that countries supporting the Lebanese army simply ignore this: “The same thing happens with Iran when European governments deal with Teheran and close their eyes in order not to see the reality.”
Eldad Shavit and Aaron Kornbluth, experts at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), say in a paper that since 2006 the U.S. has provided the Lebanese army with more than $1.6 billion in military aid, including six A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes, 32 Bradley M2-A2s, light attack helicopters (MD 530G), and six Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition, US Special Forces personnel are in Lebanon to do training.
Meanwhile, Russia, so deeply ensconced in Syria, has begun talks with the Lebanese army to sign a cooperative agreement, according to the two Israeli researchers. The agreement would open Lebanese seaports and airports to Russian military maritime vessels and planes. Russia is also reportedly interested in assisting the Lebanese army with training and military equipment.
Shavit and Kornbluth say the US administration emphasizes that its military aid to Lebanon does not pose a threat to Israeli forces, and that the weapon systems are not expected to fundamentally change the balance of power. But Israeli national security officials and experts clearly don’t agree.
“In practice, a great deal of evidence, including evidence that accumulated over 2017, is indicative of cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army in the operational realm, within the framework of the military measures against the Islamic State on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and in the course of incidents that have occurred along the Israeli-Lebanese border,” the experts write.
If Hezbollah starts launching missiles into Israel from Lebanon, Israel, our sources say, will consider it an act of war.