Missiles are but a symptom

The French arms deal is a symptom of the West’s wider impotence, in the face of an increasingly belligerent Iran and Syria.

Lebanese PM Hariri and Iranian VP Rahim 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Lebanese PM Hariri and Iranian VP Rahim 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Defense officials voiced concern at the weekend over France’s apparent willingness to sell 100 HOT antitank missiles to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
One of the most advanced of its kind in the world, the HOT missile has a range of up to 4 km. and the ability to penetrate about 1,000 mm of armor. It can be installed on both vehicles and helicopters.
Israel’s concern that these missiles will fall into the hands of Hizbullah and be used against the IDF are acute.
The Second Lebanon War underlined the vulnerability of Israeli tanks to such weaponry.
But it would be unfair to single out France as the sole bad guy. The French arms deal is a symptom of the West’s wider impotence, if not disingenuous capitulation, in the face of an increasingly belligerent Iran and Syria, two states which unabashedly continue to strengthen Hizbullah at the expense of Lebanese sovereignty and regional stability.
The US and other western countries have argued that strengthening the LAF via military aid and arms sales promotes Lebanese sovereignty and independence in the face of Syrian and Iranian tutelage. This explains a US decision last month to lift a three-month freeze on $100 million in military aid that includes armored personnel carriers, helicopters, M-16 rifles, night-vision scopes and advanced training for LAF forces.
In an interview with the Lebanese daily An-Nahar just a few days before the freeze was lifted, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the following: “It has been our longstanding policy to support the LAF. The LAF helps to ensure stability and protect the people of Lebanon. It is a truly national institution and a strong symbol of national unity, which includes members of all of Lebanon’s diverse faiths and communities. It is representative and accountable.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to maintain this support, which we believe is in the best interests of the Lebanese people and contributes to stability in Lebanon and in the region.”
The basis for Clinton’s optimism is dubious, to put it mildly. Can she truly draw a confident distinction between the LAF and the ever-more powerful Hizbullah? Is there a barrier between them that Western-supplied arms can be guaranteed not to cross? More fundamentally, do America and France truly believe they can begin to counter Hizbullah’s rapacious appetites by providing a few hundred million dollars in military aid? BOGGED DOWN in Iraq and Afghanistan, perceived as over-extended in this region, its deterrent capacity eroding, the US is deemed highly unlikely to assert itself effectively in Lebanon. Hizbullah, meanwhile, enjoying massive Iranian backing as well as grassroots support from the large Shi’ite populace, continues to consolidate its military and political hegemony. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed after the Second Lebanon War, which calls for the disarmament of the Hizbullah, has been totally ignored.
Summing up IDF estimates, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren warned recently that, “Hizbullah today now has four times as many rockets as it had during the 2006 Lebanon war. These rockets are longer-range. Every city in Israel is within range right now, including Eilat.”
The IDF has released information to bolster its claim that Hizbullah is storing these rockets beneath hospitals, schools and homes.
The once courageous Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, whose war-hardened Druse community fought the Party of God to a standstill in May 2008 – when Hizbullah nearly sparked a civil war in response to attempts to close down its satellite TV station Al Manar – have realized it would be suicidal to rely on the backing of the US or “moderate” Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia in a standoff against the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis.
King Abdullah of Jordan, with a healthy survival instinct that recognizes the real strong horse in the region, has shown signs of a desire to warm relations. He recently received an official invitation to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Now Hizbullah, with no one standing in its way, may not even have to resort to violence to persuade Hariri’s government not to cooperate with a UN tribunal that is expected to find senior Hizbullah officials responsible for the 2005 assassination of the prime minister’s father, Rafik Hariri.
Against this background, France’s sale of 100 HOT missiles is a dismaying but minor aspect of the major problem: With western influence waning, Lebanon is losing the last vestiges of its sovereignty, and falling prey to the Syrian-Iranian effort to realign the balance of power in the Middle East.