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U.S. and Israel Sharply at Odds on Military Aid to Lebanon

Last month during a conference at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, the State Department’s David Satterfield said the administration would keep “bolster[ing] the elements of state security in Lebanon, with an emphasis on the Lebanese army.”

So reports Eldad Shavit, a researcher at the institute. Yet at the same conference another State Department official, Nathan Sales, argued “that the Lebanese army is currently a tool of Hezbollah and …  it is therefore pointless to strengthen it.”

Which of those two diametrically opposed views, coming from the same State Department, is accurate?

If Sales is right, it is troubling that since 2006, as Shavit notes, the U.S. has given the Lebanese army “more than $1.6 billion in military aid,” and that “recent months have witnessed an expansion in U.S. aid, some of which has already reached Lebanon.” This aid included attack planes and helicopters as well as drones.

The official Israeli view is that it’s all a big mistake. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says:

[T]he Lebanese army has lost its independence and is another unit in Hezbollah’s apparatus, and therefore, as far as we are concerned, the infrastructure of the Lebanese army and the Lebanese state is one with the infrastructure of Hezbollah.

Shavit, a former high-ranking intelligence official, spells it out in more detail:

Close cooperation continues between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah. Therefore, the working assumption must be that weapons and knowledge that reach the Lebanese army will find their way into the hands of Hezbollah. This means that all aid to the Lebanese army is liable to strengthen the military capabilities of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, officially listed as a terror organization by the State Department, is an enemy of the West that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

And yet:

Lebanese authorities are taking no action to prevent Hezbollah from increasing its military capabilities, and no efforts were made to prevent the group from deploying surface-to-surface missiles and rockets intended for striking at Israel and taking measures to improve the systems’ accuracy.

Tony Badran, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, takes an outright acerbic view of the U.S. aid to the Lebanese military. He notes what occurred during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Lebanon last month:

Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait, as photographers took pictures and video, before Hezbollah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. Secretary of State fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region.