Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah includes $800 million in annual financial support, the supply of 130,000 rockets and missiles.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US took the brave and important step on Tuesday of blacklisting three Hezbollah operatives, including two sitting members of Lebanon’s parliament. Former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot called on the US to condition its support for the Lebanese Armed Forces on it intercepting the flow of weapons to Hezbollah, and stopping Hezbollah’s increasing presence in southern Lebanon.
The US move comes more than a decade after UN Resolution 1701 was supposed to end Hezbollah’s military and terrorist role in southern Lebanon, and the weapons trade between Iran and Hezbollah.
The resolution called for no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of the government, and no sales or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government. Nevertheless, Hezbollah has built up an arsenal of around 150,000 missiles, and has warned that they can strike everywhere in Israel.
Hezbollah routinely threatens Israel. It even puts up flags and posters on the border with threats of “liberating” Jerusalem. Despite UN Resolution 1701, Hezbollah has not grown weaker in Lebanon but stronger, every step of the way.
Israel revealed last year that Hezbollah had dug tunnels into Israel, a violation of UN agreements and international law. It not only occupies southern Lebanon militarily, it uses its dual nature as a terrorist military organization as well as a political party to infiltrate the government. In this way, Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon have a stranglehold over Lebanese politics, dictating who becomes president and other aspects of politics in the country. Most recently, it was able to infiltrate the Health Ministry, building on its existing power.
Hezbollah has gained power through its role in the Syrian civil war, and now flexes its muscles in Lebanon as it pleases. For years, Western governments thought that appeasing Hezbollah would moderate it and help it assimilate into the political structure. Instead, Hezbollah used the official state of Lebanon to shield its activities, grabbing the cake of politics and eating its fill of military supplies from Iran, too.
Hezbollah didn’t moderate or assimilate. Rather, it has assimilated Lebanon into itself, creating a kind of Hezbollahstan. Israeli officials have warned that in the next war, Lebanon will pay the price for allowing Hezbollah to become part of the state.
The US has blacklisted around 50 Hezbollah members. This is an important signal, telling the world that the US makes no distinction between Hezbollah’s activities, between its political activity and its so-called military wing.
Eisenkot said that it is also time for the US to condition its support for the Lebanese military – the Lebanese Armed Forces has received more than $1.7 billion from the US since 2006 – on Lebanon’s army taking over the role it is supposed to have: not allowing Hezbollah to run a mini-military state in southern Lebanon, and not letting it take delivery of Iranian arms.
Eisenkot also supports the reinvigoration of UNIFIL, the UN mission in Lebanon. And because Lebanon depends on foreign aid, the US has leverage. Moreover, as Iran has become increasingly weakened by US sanctions and cannot continue to support Hezbollah at previous levels, now is the best time to pressure Lebanon.
The Trump administration’s efforts against Hezbollah are welcome news. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton understand the Hezbollah threat, and how it plays into Iran’s regional Middle East ambitions as well as its larger global ambitions.
Make no mistake, Hezbollah is a global threat. Reports about its drug trafficking and terrorist threats in Europe show that it is not just Israel’s problem, or Lebanon’s problem, but a problem for everyone.
It is time to pull the mask off of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Sanctioning its members in Lebanon’s parliament is a direct message that Hezbollah can no longer pretend to have a military and political wing. Hezbollah is one entity, one that is increasingly trying to digest Lebanon. It must be stopped.
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