MidEast

As U.S. Mulls Increasing Assistance, Evidence Emerges that Lebanese Army Fought Alongside Hezbollah

U.S. defense officials are moving to stabilize the Middle East from multiple threats, ranging from potential spillover from the Syrian conflict to a resurgent Al Qaeda.

Among the options being considered is a boost in security assistance to Lebanon. Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey made the case to reporters at the Pentagon earlier this week:

He was responding to a question at the news conference about whether Lebanon had asked for military help and whether the US military might go into that country. “When you say would we send the United States Army or the United States military into Lebanon, I’m talking about teams of trainers, and I’m talking about accelerating foreign military sales for equipment for them,” Dempsey said in response. “This is about building their capability, not ours.” A spokesman clarified that this would come on top of any ongoing US military support being provided to Lebanon and Iraq.

Pentagon moves are likely to be complicated, however, by growing evidence that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have been at a minimum compromised – and more worryingly, may be cooperating – with Hezbollah.

Security assistance to the LAF has traditionally been justified as a way to build capacity for the Lebanese central government so that it could supplant Hezbollah, disarm the Iran-backed terror group, and take effective control of what Lebanese critics describe as Hezbollah’s statelet in the south of the country. Evidence of implicit collaboration between the LAF and Hezbollah would undermine the case for boosting security assistance.

More than implicitly collaborating, the two groups now appear to be fighting on the same side:

To be sure, the official line, as relayed by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel is that “only the Lebanese Armed Forces took part” in the military operation. The fact is that the evidence of Hezbollah’s participation is irrefutable. For instance, there’s video footage and pictures of gunmen on the streets wearing yellow bands around their arms that identify them as Hezbollah. Wearing similar yellow armbands Hezbollah thugs assaulted and murdered activist Hashem Salman two weeks ago outside the Iranian embassy in broad daylight.

Reporters on the ground spoke with Hezbollah fighters as well as eyewitnesses who confirmed the party’s combat role in Sidon. MP Bahia Hariri explained that Hezbollah occupied a hill facing her house. More information emerged on Wednesday in a report from Al-Mustaqbal’s correspondent in the city, which provided a detailed picture of Hezbollah’s deployment during the fighting. Published death notices of Hezbollah fighters killed in action in Sidon round up the body of evidence.

Any evidence of active cooperation between Hezbollah and the LAF would raise the spectre of U.S. weapons being used on behalf of the terror group.

[Photo: Bertil Videt / Wiki Commons]