Israel and US at odds over aid to Lebanon’s army

While Israel believes the Hezbollah terrorist group is indistinguishable from Lebanon’s army, the US continues to support it with tens of millions of dollars a year.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An area of disagreement between Israel and the United States was revealed Wednesday at the International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv. Acting Assistant US Secretary of State David Satterfield spoke about the administration’s belief that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) was “the only legitimate force in Lebanon” and that therefore America’s military aid, training and support would continue.

Since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the United States has spent $1.5 billion in aid to the military of Israel’s neighbor to the north.

A former US ambassador to Lebanon, Satterfield added that the country’s army “could well serve as a counterweight to Hezbollah’s desire to expand its own influence there, as well as Iran’s reach in Lebanon.”

In stark contrast, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who took the stage a few hours later, stated firmly, “As far as I’m concerned, all of Lebanon, the Lebanese army… are no different from Hezbollah.” He warned that if there is a large-scale attack launched against Israel from Lebanese territory, “They are part of Hezbollah and they will all pay the full price.”

Openly backed by Iran, Hezbollah is formally considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the US, making their approach to the LAF a rather obvious difference of opinion that could have very real repercussions in the future.

Israel’s position is based on the fact that Lebanon has been led since 2006 by  Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun, who serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Aoun reportedly declared last year in an interview on Egyptian television that the group’s weapons “do not contradict the state… and are an essential part of defending Lebanon. As long as the Lebanese army lacks sufficient power to face Israel, we feel the need for (Hezbollah’s) arsenal because it complements the army’s role.”

In addition, Israel has long held that the Lebanese army cooperates closely with the terrorist organization in southern Lebanon, where, in violation of UN resolutions, Hezbollah is allowed free rein to stockpile missiles, build tunnels and otherwise prepare for battle with Israel.

But more worrisome lately has been the Iranian push to make its presence in Lebanon even more direct than pulling Hezbollah’s strings from afar. Israel has publicized Iran’s plans to build missile factories in Lebanon which could fit precision-guided systems on missiles that could potentially be a threat to Israeli infrastructure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just returned from a trip to Moscow in which he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence with Tehran to stop these efforts, which are a red line for Israel.