20 years ago, on May 15, 2000, I was attending a small, elite gathering of a major lobbying organization in Washington. Dennis Ross, who had then been the Special Middle East Coordinator for President Bill Clinton addressed the group. Those were the days when negotiations were in full swing between then Syrian President Haffez al-Assad, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak of about giving up the Golan Heights.
(May 8, 2020/JNS)
During that briefing, Ambassador Ross casually mentioned that “We have people in our embassy in Damascus, and they watch every day, as Boeing 747 planes leave from Tehran with men, arms and equipment for Hezbollah, refuel in Damascus and land in Beirut.”
I raised my hand, and asked Mr. Ross how, when the Clinton administration was in the midst of serious discussions with Haffez Assad, they are allowing this to happen. His response: “Yes, I have brought this up to President Clinton, and he expressed his concern.”
“Expressing concern” is diplomatic double-speak for barely doing anything.
Just 10 days after that fateful meeting, on May 25, 2000, Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon.
Now is the time to reflect and examine how that withdrawal worked out.
In 2004, the UN Security Council passed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which called upon all foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.
Of course, the Israelis had been so careful to withdraw from Southern Lebanon, that they painted the stones blue, hence the term “the blue line.”
The Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, however, has gotten increasingly entrenched into that territory. They have become a massive force to reckon with, the size of a regular army, with an arsenal of approximately 150,000 rockets staring down at Israel.
All under the watchful eye of the utterly useless United Nations International Force in Lebanon, (UNIFIL).
There are now conversion factories within Lebanon where their dummy missiles are having GPS’s inserted into them, so with precision guided missiles installed in them that can be programmed to strike at critical points for Israel’s infrastructure.
We know that Israel has a sophisticated missile defense system which can handle incoming missiles one at a time. We do not know if they are capable of handling swarms of missiles, like flocks of vultures, which we know that Hezbollah is preparing for.
On April 17th the fence separating Israel and Lebanon was penetrated in three separate places, and pictures were hung up of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and Qassam Soleimani, former leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who had been killed in an American air strike, earlier this year. By April 21, Hezbollah made clear in its official website, Al-Akhbar, that they were responsible for this.
After the 2006 War, the United States has given the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) approximately $224 million annually so that they will act as leverage against Hezbollah.
However, now it seems that Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and the LAF are totally enmeshed, so that it’s difficult to know where the margins of the LAF ends, and Hezbollah’s begins. As Professor Efraim Inbar from the Jerusalem Center for Strategy and security says, “The LAF and Hezbollah are now one and the same.”
The LAF shares their uniforms with Hezbollah; they go on joint patrols together. We have seen photos of American made armored vehicles with Hezbollah members driving them; and of photos on the LAF’s own website of Hezbollah members with flags of both the LAF and Hezbollah.
Lebanese society is a mosaic of cultures. Southern Lebanon, however, is dominated by Hezbollah. As Ambassador Ron Dermer said to me approximately two months ago, “I could point to any house In Southern Lebanon, and the owner will say to you, ‘Here is my bedroom; here is my kitchen; here Is my rocket room.”
Hezbollah controls two major ministries in the Lebanese government, and the Lebanese Prime Minister, Hussein Diab, although Sunni, was nominated by Hezbollah.
Because Hezbollah has grown from a force of approximately 600 men, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon In 2000, to the formidable size of approximately 40,000 men today, with a vast arsenal of rockets.
This answers the question as to how the withdrawal from southern Lebanon worked out.
Israel is now careful to avoid a direct conflict with the Shiite force in southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah is well aware of Israel’s massive power. So they are now playing a “cat and mouse game.” Israel is extremely careful not to provoke a war with the Iranian proxy in southern Lebanon.
However, the failed state of Syria provides fertile ground for Israel to prevent a further build of men, arms and equipment on route to Lebanon; or for Syria becoming another front dominated by Hezbollah. According to reports from the Syrian news agency, on Tuesday, May 5th, the Israeli Air Force attacked Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Studies Center, Syria’s most important research and development center, used to develop chemical and biological weapon, and an essential component In Iran’s efforts to equip Hezbollah.
As to the wisdom of America’s annual aid to the LAF?
As Lieutenant Colonel Sarit Zehavi of the IDF and Director of the think tank dedicated to Israel northern border, Alma, said today, “I am afraid that in the next war the LAF will be fighting alongside Hezbollah.”
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