When Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman comes to Washington next week, he plans to ask for increased military aid for a government that just gave a terrorist group responsible for killing hundreds of Americans free rein to wage war on Israel.
His government last week granted Hizbullah, the Shi'ite group that the US and most Western nations consider a terrorist organization, the right to "liberate occupied territories" - read Israel - as it wishes.
The Lebanese Forces and the Phalange Party say this is tantamount to granting the Iranian ally separate and independent status from the state in violation of the Lebanese constitution and the Taif Accords which ended the Lebanese civil war. Some Christian ministers expressed fear that giving such authority to Hizbullah could reignite civil conflict.
The move effectively hands over to a terrorist organization what should be any legitimate government's monopoly on deciding when and whether to wage war.
In actuality, Hizbullah's military forces are stronger than the Lebanese army and reportedly claim the loyalty of many in the army itself.
Any hope that US help in arming the Lebanese army would enable it to stand up to Hizbullah went out the window with this latest action, and virtually assures Hizbullah access to any American weapons and training provided the army.
This summer, the US sold Lebanon eight rubber Zodiac boats. That may sound insignificant, but that's the boat favored by Palestinian terrorists who have made commando raids on Israeli shores, by the Mumbai attackers last year, by Iranians to attack tankers in the Gulf and by Somali pirates. In today's Lebanon, there would be no way to keep them out of Hizbullah's "navy." It not as though Hizbullah needs American arms.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced Monday that not only isn't his group disarming but it intends to improve and expand its arsenal, which he boasted has tens of thousands of rockets. The IDF estimates the group has more than 40,000, triple its prewar inventory, many now capable of hitting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and beyond. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that "dwarfs the inventory of many nation-states." Most are coming from Iran, Syria and North Korea, in violation of UN resolutions. Israel recently intercepted a ship, the Francop, with some 500 tons of weapons and ammunition bound from Iran via Syria for Hizbullah.
This surrender of power to Hizbullah brought renewed Israeli warnings that it will hold the Lebanese government directly responsible for any attack by Hizbullah from Lebanese soil. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week that if Hizbullah attacks Israel, "our target will be the state of Lebanon." "We will not hold back." warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, presiding over a weak coalition in which the Hizbullah-led minority has a virtual veto, knew that if he didn't give in to the militants' demands it probably could take over by force.
His government's surrender violates two UN Security Council resolutions, one that led to the ouster of Syrian forces following Damascus' implication in the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and the other ending the 2006 war with Israel.
Under those measures, all militias were to be disbanded and disarmed - a clearly intended reference to Hizbullah. Hariri's surrender to Hizbullah could potentially land Lebanon on the State Department's terrorism list, according to an expert who had a hand in drafting that law.
Until now "Lebanon has gotten a pass" because various Palestinian groups controlled areas beyond the government's reach, but since "Hizbullah became part of the government" things have changed and "one could make a good argument for the designation," said this source.
Criteria for being listed include providing terrorists and terror groups sanctuary from extradition or prosecution, headquarters and diplomatic cover. Lebanon appears to qualify.
It won't happen now, but President Barack
Obama and Congress should put the Lebanese leader on notice that the option is open if his government fails to control Hizbullah, whose leader this week called the US "the source of every terrorism in the world." Hizbullah has made no secret of its goal to establish Islamic law in Lebanon, the most Western and secular of Arab states, preferably through democratic means but by force if necessary.
The threat of cutting off aid and winding up on the terror list may be just the kind of pressure needed to strengthen those forces inside the country who want to break away from the terrorists and their sponsors and return Lebanon to the Lebanese people.
For now, Nasrallah, who has the power to take Lebanon to war, is the de facto leader of Lebanon, not the elected government, and he is calling on all countries to join with him to "liberate Jerusalem."
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