While relatively well known that Iran has for decades projected power in Lebanon through its Hezbollah proxy, analysts contend that recent events reinforce the West's blindness to the degree to which the mullahs have systematically and comprehensively taken over the country's political, military and economic apparatuses.
News surfaced last week of a direct flight from Tehran to Beirut allegedly hauling advanced weaponry destined for Hezbollah; this, a month after Iran reportedly shipped GPS components to its underling that can be used to transform rudimentary projectiles into accurate missiles. Notably, the latest plane landed, and thus presumably unloaded its cargo, at Rafik Hariri International Airport, named after the nation’s former prime minister who was murdered by Hezbollah operatives and whose son now serves in the same capacity. The brazenness of the move suggests that Lebanese officials are either complicit in Iran’s militarization efforts or fully lack the ability to thwart its ambitions.
This comes on the backdrop of numerous warnings by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Hezbollah—at the direction of its Iranians masters—is constructing subterranean factories to produce precision-guided rockets with ranges that cover the entirety of the Jewish state. On Thursday, Brian Hook, United States Special Representative for Iran, confirmed that Washington also has "evidence that Iran is helping Hezbollah build missile production facilities," adding that this "is a problem that is not getting better" but, rather, worse.
"There is a common misconception in the West that there are two competing camps in Lebanon," Giora Eiland, formerly the head of Israel’s National Security Council, explained to The Media Line. "The first is considered the 'good' camp, led by [current Lebanese premier Saad] Hariri and comprising Sunnis, most of the Christians and the Druze. The other consists of [Shiite] Hezbollah which is supported by Iran and Syria.
"This [faulty paradigm] inevitably leads to the conclusion, 'let's help the good guys against the bad guys'—but the reality is that there is an agreement between the sides. The former is tasked with presenting the 'nice' face of Lebanon while appealing for Western support, while Hezbollah is allowed to remain the only military power in the country and dominates decision-making processes."
Yaakov Amidror, former National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and presently a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, agrees that "Lebanon practically does not exist as a sovereign state. This is an illusion," he stressed to The Media Line, "as nothing can be done without the approval of Hezbollah and ordinary people in Beirut understand this even as the rest of the world hypocritically ignores it."
Indeed, Hariri has been unable to form a government since elections in May due to a demand by Hezbollah—which made major gains in the vote—that Cabinet positions specifically designated for Sunnis be filled by its loyalists. President Michel Aoun is a Hezbollah ally, as is the head of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
In fact, Hezbollah fighters and LAF soldiers together have waged battles in Syria, while it is no secret that American military equipment earmarked for the latter has fallen into the hands of, if not been intentionally diverted to, the terror organization. For good measure, the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate this month hailed Hezbollah's "resistance" during an ostensible counter-terrorism conference.
Accordingly, the prevailing assessment in Jerusalem is encapsulated by a common refrain: "Lebanon Equals Hezbollah, Hezbollah Equals Lebanon"—which, by extension, is an implicit rejection of the West's obfuscation between the Lebanese political echelon, the LAF and Iran's puppet. For their part, most European states go even further by differentiating between Hezbollah's so-called "political" and "military" wings.
If the Israeli maxim—which also denotes the position of most regional experts—is, in fact, true, then it raises serious questions about Washington's continued diplomatic support for and military aid to Lebanon at a time when it is simultaneously attempting to curb Iranian expansionism.
"The US is trying to apply pressure on Tehran in a direct way through sanctions,
but it can do something much more effective," Eiland opined to The Media Line. "That is, present an ultimatum to Hariri that unless you take back control of the country and work to become a legitimate member of the international community then the US will boycott Lebanon. This could include potential naval and aerial blockades, an end to all commercial ties and sanctions that might induce panic over the country's potential quick collapse.
"This strategy," he concluded, "can at least lead to a serious debate about Lebanon's future because a majority of citizens do not support Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. If the US does not adopt this approach, then there is very little chance that the situation will change."
Amidror, meanwhile, believes that Israel probably will have to take matters into its own hands. "Hezbollah has more than 120,000 missiles and rockets, many of them stored in houses and apartments in populated areas," he told The Media Line. "When I previously presented this truth to the secretary general of the UN and asked what can be done, there was no response. But these are legitimate military targets and if they have to be destroyed by the Israeli air force then the surrounding areas will evaporate as there is no tactical way to do so without massive amounts of damage.
"When the next conflict erupts depends very much how far the Iranians will push things and how long Israel can tolerate the danger. In the end, every global leader will have to explain why they allowed this to happen and [will share responsibility for] the price paid by the Lebanese people."
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of testing a ballistic missile
capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads and that can reach anywhere in the Middle East and parts of Europe. He noted that the internationally community was “accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to restore deterrence.”
For the US, a point of departure might be to adopt a policy of using whatever means necessary to prevent a repeat of Tehran's takeover of Lebanon in places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Regarding the Europeans, they are unlikely to reverse their rapprochement with the world's foremost sponsor of terrorism that, parenthetically, planned two attacks on the continent this summer.
With respect to Israel, in the absence of concerted international action its troops may soon enough again find themselves stationed in Beirut in order to both defend the Jewish state from genocidal enemies and avert Lebanon's descent into a failed state that threatens all of humanity.
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