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Coronavirus pandemic or not, Israel can ill afford to let its guard down, not even for a single moment.  On Friday, April 17th the fence separating Israel and Lebanon was penetrated in three separate places, and pictures were hung up of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nissrallah, and Qasem Soleimani, former leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who had been killed in an American air strike, earlier this year. By Tuesday, April 21, Hezbollah made clear in its official website, Al-Akhbar, that they were responsible for this.

As Brigadier General Shimon Shapiro of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs wrote, “Hezbollah is gloating over Israeli mentions of the damage to ‘the most sophisticated border protection system in the world.’ Hezbollah believes that its ‘fence operation’ punctured what Israel views as the great achievements of eliminating the threat of the cross-border tunnels from Lebanon. Hezbollah wants to make clear that even though its ability to operate under the fence has been impaired, it is still operationally capable of crossing the fence above ground.”

This act was in retaliation for an air strike last week, carried out by the IDF on Syrian soil against a tank carrying three Hezbollah members, who immediately fled. According to a report in the New York Times this was an intentional warning shot intended to send a message about Hezbollah’s increasing presence in Syria, but not intending to kill.

The chaotic, failed state of Syria has become territory for many players on the world’s stage to send out their messages. This past Monday, April 20th, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, which according to Mehr news was to reaffirm Iran’s increasing role in Syria. On Monday night, at least 10 Hezbollah terrorists were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in the Palmyra region in the center of Syria.

Lebanon, however, with its vast arsenal of approximately 150,000 missiles staring down at Israel is a bit trickier for Israel to deal with. The Israelis know far too well that the Islamic Republic of Iran has progressively gained more and more of foothold into Lebanese soil on its northern border.

And the United States should take careful note.

As far back as May 15, 2000, I was in a meeting where Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was then then the Special Middle East Coordinator for President Bill Clinton, said, “Every day, we watch planes taking off from Tehran, landing in Damascus, on their way to Beirut, with men, arms, and equipment for Hezbollah.”

This entrenchment was happening under the watchful eye of the United States, while they were then in serious negotiations with Syrian president Haffez Assad regarding just much of the Golan Heights to exchange for a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. (Mr. Assad wanted to extend his control all the way down to the shores of Lake Tiberius).

Since then, a tremendous amount of precious American blood has been spilled, and a massive amount of money lost in the war with Iraq. That has consequently opened up the door to a wave of isolationism, nativism, and “America firstism,” while the real enemy of the United States, Iran, has been the true winner of that protracted war.

Now, with Saddam out of the way, and with the current American political sentiment of fatigue and exhaustion in foreign adventures, Tehran feels free to plant its flag, via its proxy Hezbollah, in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut, and stretching all the way to the Mediterranean.

Of course, hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

Like it or not, in the perception of the radical Islamist, both the United States and Israel are wedded at the hip. And after Friday prayers in the mosques throughout Iran, the imam does not just lead the faithful in chants of “Death to Israel,” but in chants of “Death to America” as well.

And while America is primarily focused on Covid-19, the Islamic Republic is hard at work, not only on their nuclear bomb, but on intercontinental ballistic missiles

They do not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to reach Tel Aviv, but to reach New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

In Lebanon, Iran has been planting the psychological seeds for victory, especially through its proxy Hezbollah, for decades now.

Lebanon was for a brief, shining moment in February to March of 2005, the Middle Eastern country that I looked to, with optimism. That was during the Cedar Revolution, triggered by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Harari, when the Christian minority felt free to walk through the streets of Beirut.

That was when George W. Bush was in the White House, a President who cared passionately about the rights of religious minorities, and who had executed the war in Iraq. America was then perceived as a source of strength, and as a moral compass for oppressed religious minorities.

Right now, that seems like light years away.

Lebanon has increasingly and incrementally become a puppet state of Iran, dominated by Hezbollah.

So much so that the one of the most popular clubs for children in Lebanon is called “The Imam al Mehdi Scouts” named after the 12th imam, the Shiite Messiah. Internewscast ran a story in February of this year, where it described how the 45,000 member boys and girls club, although it is a part of the international scout movement, is actually “the youth wing of Hezbollah.” The story shows a picture of two young boys, one appears to be no older than four and the other perhaps six, brandishing rifles, standing on the sides of a Hezbollah terrorist, his arms embracing each child on his side. The four-year-old is wearing a headband engraved in Arabic proclaiming, “Jerusalem. We are coming.”

According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, “After the age of 16, most of the members join Hezbollah,” and “so far over 200 former members of the Imam al Mahdi Scouts died fighting against Israel and in the Syrian civil war.”

Unfortunately, this indoctrination has trickled down to the ballot box. In the most recent election, the Prime Minister position was nominated by Hezbollah, and was awarded to Hassan Diab, who, although Sunni, is a Hezbollah sympathizer.

Since its strong showing in the first parliamentary elections in nine years, Hezbollah now controls two important ministries in the government, including the all-important health ministry, which in the days of Covid-19, is only increasing in importance.

What is of greatest alarm, however, is the increasing coziness between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). According to Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, “Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces have become Indistinguishable. They are now one and the same unit.”

Unfortunately, there is evidence of Lebanese Armed Forces giving their uniforms to Hezbollah members; additionally, they go on joint maneuvers together. In a 2016 military, showed Hezbollah members proudly atop of American-made M113 armed personnel carriers, originally given by the U.S. to the LAF.

Hezbollah, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group, now controls estimates of up to 150,000 missiles that are staring down at Israel. These are many more missiles than most armies possess. They are now at work in conversion factories, converting their dummy missiles to “smart missiles” with GPS’s attached to them so they can reach their intended targets.

And they now have the ability to have them swarm in groups. The Iron Dome or David’s Sling missile defense system might be able to handle one missile at a time, but it is doubtful that they may be able to handle huge groups of incoming missiles at once.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, which came about after the 2006 war, calls for a buffer zone free of any armed personnel– both Hizbollah militants and Israeli troops – between the United Nations-drawn Blue Line in southern Lebanon and the Litani River (12 miles from the Israeli border).

Of course, Israel immediately complied, but Iranian-backed Hezbollah has brazenly violated that resolution, under the watchful eyes of the United Nations Forces in Lebanon, (UNIFIL).

To such an extent that Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told me in a private meeting on February 6th, “I can point to any house in Southern Lebanon, and they could say to me, “This is my kitchen; This is my bedroom; This is my rocket room.”

Since 2010, the United States has given the Lebanese Armed Forces $1. 82 billion. In recent years the LAF has received an average of $224 million each year in combined Department of State and Department of Defense military grant assistance. The reason that this money had been given in the first place was for the LAF to act as a bulwark about Hezbollah.

Even our moderate Arab Gulf allies refuse to give aid to Lebanon, because they are within close proximity and see how Lebanon has increasingly become a puppet state of Iran.

And according to Lieutenant Colonel Sarit Zehavi of the IDF, Director of the think tank Alma, which works exclusively on the situation on Israel northern border, “I am afraid that is the next war with Israel, the LAF will fight alongside Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, many of the folks whom we have spoken with on Capitol Hill seem to be echoing a sentiment that is frozen in time; that our American largess is somehow providing leverage against Hezbollah.

As James Rosenau had written in his book, Politics and Turbulence, “Abandoning existing assumptions is no easy matter. Students of world politics, like politicians, are prisoners of their paradigms, unwilling or unable to escape the premise….and are constantly tempted to cling to familiar assumptions.”

It is far time we reevaluate whether this appropriation to the Lebanese Armed Forces is doing what it was initially intended for.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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