August 8, 2010
Should The U.S. Continue Military Support to Lebanon?
When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed a ceasefire agreement on August 14, 2006, after the Second Lebanon War, U.N. Security Resolution 1701 was adopted. Most Israelis were skeptical, because they did not believe that Lebanon's terror group, Hezb'allah, would abide by the agreement. They were right.
According to the minutes of the U.N. meeting that transpired, "the Security Council created a buffer zone free of 'any armed personnel' -- both Hezb'allah militants and Israeli troops -- between the United Nations-drawn Blue Line in southern Lebanon and the Litani River [twelve miles from the Israeli border], and called for both Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive solution to the crisis."
The text also emphasized "the importance of the government of Lebanon extending its control over all Lebanese territory" and called upon that government "to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry, without its consent, of arms or related material." It further decided "that all States shall take the necessary measures to prevent, 'by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft', the sale or supply of arms and related material of all types, to any entity or individual in Lebanon" (http://www.un.org).
The Power and Influence of Hezb'allah
Since then, Iran and Syria have sent truckloads of advanced weapons systems to Hezb'allah terrorists, which have been allowed in by the Lebanese government and ignored by the Lebanese army. Thanks to the Iranians and Syrians, Hezb'allah has acquired 40,000-50,000 short, medium, and long-range missiles, which can now penetrate into the heart of the Jewish State, potentially hitting major Israeli population centers like Tel Aviv. In addition, Hezb'allah has reportedly received Scud missiles from Syria, and the terrorist group is being trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
What Israel had hoped for was that UNIFIL "peacekeepers" assigned to south Lebanon would keep Hezb'allah from building up its forces and military arsenal south of the Litani River. Instead, Hezb'allah now has missiles and weapons stored in homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals in 160 south Lebanese villages close to the Israeli border. They have at least two hundred fighters at the entrances to those villages and have prepared explosive devices and booby traps for the IDF in the event of a future war. At least 20,000-30,000 militia fighters are part of Hezb'allah forces today.
UNIFIL has failed to prevent Hezb'allah from rearming since the implementation of 1701 after the Second Lebanon War. Because the IDF has penetrated Hezb'allah intelligence operations, UNIFIL now knows that Hezb'allah has taken over homes within four kilometers of the Israeli border. The terrorist group is reportedly digging tunnels, building bunkers, and hoping to infiltrate IDF posts, where they can kidnap or kill Israeli soldiers. Hezb'allah is also improving its command and control centers in south Lebanon.
Earlier this year, Israel asked UNIFIL to be more aggressive in making sure the requirements of 1701 were adhered to. When UNIFIL forces tried to investigate Hezb'allah operations in one of the villages, they were stoned and injured by local residents. Armed attacks have been issued against UNIFIL forces, with Hezb'allah receiving orders from Iran.
Hezb'allah has expanded its political influence within the Lebanese government while heavily infiltrating the Lebanese army and increasing its control over major Lebanese population centers. It continues to solidify its ties with Iran and Syria. The terrorist group has its own telecommunications network, gathers its own intelligence information, and ultimately decides the fate of those Lebanese it claims have collaborated with Israel. It does all this while the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Said Harriri looks on.
The Border Incident
The demarcation of the border between Israel and Lebanon is clearly indicated on maps that have been internationally recognized and approved by the U.N. A security fence has been built on the Israeli side of the border, but in some areas, because of the terrain, the fence is not right up against the blue line border demarcation. Israel has had to build some of the fence in Israeli territory. What exists now are enclaves between the Israeli fence and the blue line. These enclaves are internationally recognized as being a part of Israeli territory, and from time to time, the IDF goes into the area to do maintenance work.
If Israel did not occupy the enclaves, the IDF is aware that Lebanese forces, including Hezb'allah, would take them over. Therefore, Israel exerts its sovereignty by occupying the enclaves during routine operations.
In recent weeks, the IDF has noticed that the Lebanese army has become more aggressive towards Israeli military patrols in the area of the enclaves. More than once, Lebanese soldiers have pointed their guns directly at IDF troops in the area, warning the Israelis to leave. The Lebanese army has also aimed shoulder-fired rockets at IDF installations there.
On Tuesday, August 3, the Israeli army informed UNIFIL that it wanted to cut down a cypress tree and conduct other maintenance work in one of the enclaves. UNIFIL asked for more time in order to inform the Lebanese army of Israel's intentions so there would not be an incident on the border.
The Lebanese army, now increasingly supported by Hezb'allah fighters, especially in south Lebanon, decided to set an ambush for Israeli troops that crossed over the security fence into the enclave area. Members of the Lebanese media were invited, in advance, to cover the event. Instead of firing at the lower-rank IDF soldiers cutting down the cypress tree, which would have been bad enough, a Lebanese sniper fired at IDF officers standing on the Israeli side of the security fence.
UNIFIL soldiers shouted at the Lebanese to hold their fire, which was an expected order. But the fact that UNIFIL stood by and did nothing while a Lebanese sniper shot and killed a high-ranking Israeli battalion commander, and seriously injured another officer, is deplorable.
The fighting escalated when Israeli soldiers returned fire into Lebanon, killing a Reuters cameraman who was standing behind the sniper, as well as three Lebanese soldiers.
As Israel, Lebanon, and UNIFIL investigate the August 3 incident, tensions remain high on the border. What has become obvious to Israel is that UNIFIL cannot be trusted because any information it passes on to the Lebanese army could be used in the future for engaging in operations against the IDF. Furthermore, reports indicate that the Lebanese soldiers were using American-issued guns to shoot at Israeli troops. These kinds of weapons have also been put in the hands of Hezb'allah operatives in south Lebanon.
The U.S. Dilemma
Despite the fact that this information has been released to the United States by Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the State Department recently defended American's military support for Lebanon. The U.S. Congress, however, is considering whether it should continue appropriating funds for American military aid to Lebanon, which has totaled more than $100 million a year.
There are now high-level Hezb'allah terrorists operating within the ranks of the Lebanese army. In south Lebanon, it's estimated that as much as 60% of the Lebanese army may already have been infiltrated by Hezb'allah. Being a powerful force in the government of Lebanon, Hezb'allah has the potential to receive highly classified intelligence information from Lebanese army officials on Israeli military positions.
Israel has been apprehensive about international peacekeeping forces on its borders, and this recent incident with UNIFIL reinforces those fears. Israeli leaders worry that current nations represented by UNIFIL involve troops who adhere to radical Islamic ideology, which means they will continue to turn a blind eye as Hezb'allah continues to defy U.N. Security Resolution 1701.
The question that Americans should be asking now concerns the current foreign policy of the Obama administration. Why should America be giving military support to a government that harbors terrorists within its ranks?
It is right for the U.S. Congress to reassess America's aid to Lebanon -- a country that is closely aligned with Iran and Syria. The Obama administration should reassess its support for a country intent on terror and warfare against America's greatest ally in the Middle East -- Israel.
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.