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U.S. Tanks to Lebanon? By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, November 26, 2008


On Saturday, according to a report on Al-Arabiya, Hezbollah carried out military exercises south of the Litani river in Lebanon. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of 2006 had “called for…the establishment between the [Israeli-Lebanese border] and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel…other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL” and had also mandated “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon….”

Although 1701 has long been a dead letter and a bad joke, Saturday’s maneuvers were particularly brazen and, as ynet reported, were “held in conjunction with a celebratory parade in Beirut by the Lebanese army to mark 65 years of Lebanese independence.” As for Hezbollah’s “disarmament,” on Monday Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said the organization had tripled its strength since the summer 2006 war and now has 42,000 missiles with ranges as far as the southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon, Beersheba, and Dimona.

With the long-range, more powerful missiles situated north of the Litani, Hezbollah sees the area south of the river, where it has built up underground fortifications under the negligent UNIFIL/Lebanese-army eye, as key to containing an Israeli armored and infantry advance on the heavy missiles.

Meanwhile the Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported on Friday that—as its English website put it—“the United States will provide Lebanon with dozens of M60 main battle tanks which are capable of defeating enemy forces.” More specifically, the U.S. is reportedly “planning to deliver dozens [of M60s] to Lebanon in several batches starting early next year.”

The M60s, known for their mobility and firepower, would be part of America’s $410-million military-aid program to the Lebanese army since the 2006 war. Last month the New York Times reported that the supplies include “American Humvees and trucks…gleaming new American rifles and grenade launchers.”

Israel, not surprisingly, is unhappy about the M60s with one official reportedly fearing “a possibility these tanks will fall into Hezbollah’s hands.” It is, indeed, hard to see the logic of continuing to pour hardware into Lebanon when it has become little more than a satrapy of a hostile, Hezbollah-spearheaded, Syria- and Iran-backed alliance.

Most difficult to grasp is whom the U.S. thinks the Lebanese army—even if it retains them—would use the tanks against in a way redounding to U.S. interests. In the anti-Hezbollah street fighting that broke out last May—the last attempt to weaken its grip—Hezbollah easily routed its Sunni and Druze foes; and since the Doha Agreement later that month its carte blanche—along with its patrons—over the Lebanese government has been clear.

As for the Lebanese army itself, last month military expert Thomas Smith, after describing Hezbollah as “now…a permanent wing of the legitimate Lebanese army,” quoted a former CIA operations officer as telling him “it’s actually the other way around…. The army now appears to be part of Hezbollah.… It is clear that Hezbollah—and by extension—Iran, owns Lebanon….”

At best America’s ongoing military aid to Lebanon could be seen as part of a competition for influence. But with Lebanese president Michel Suleiman now in Tehran on a visit that could net him missile systems, it would be better to acknowledge that the momentum is decidedly in the other direction and the fight to keep Lebanon in the Western orbit is a fight that has been lost.

Continuing to blindly supply Lebanon, part of an enemy axis, and hence further endanger Israel, an ally, is a policy the incoming U.S. administration might want to rethink.


P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.


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