On December 22, 2016, I posted a short blog post on curious, albeit anonymous comments made by an Israeli defense ministry official who was expressing concern about U.S. defense articles falling into the wrong hands in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. Furtive statements have been made before. What I found it odd was the timing.
On its own, I would’ve likely ignored the article. However, a few hours or a day after it was published, a State Department spokesman issued a cryptic statement claiming that U.S. defense articles may be under Hezbollah control, but not because the U.S. allowed or authorized the transfer. That’s about as helpful, of course, as Potomac River water. It may look clear but those of in these parts know well, don’t drink it. And if you fish in it, catch and release.
The Israelis have been mum since the story and seem to be sticking with the original allegation that someone essentially, likely during the Obama administration, allowed what amounts to a transfer of several armored personnel carriers (APCs) and other defense articles to the terrorist group and Iran proxy, Hezbollah. The APCs allegedly belonged to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
Last week in Lebanon, according to yet another Middle East news source, a Syrian man was charged by the Lebanese for selling of military weapons and munitions to militants in the border town of Arsal. The announcement coincided with Hezbollah’s handover of east Lebanon border positions to the Lebanese Army. Located in the northeast of the country, Arsal, by the way, is not just any sleepy town Middle East town. It’s a war zone. One of many in the region where the battles are raging against radicalized Islamists.
So, why do I find this story, well, odd? Again, the timing is part of it. Why now? Allegedly Hezbollah and LAF forces cooperating in Arsal, and in other places, to combat ISIS and other extremists that are pouring over from Syria. Of course Hezbollah fighters cannot take the lead in any of these battles, as it would set off a political firestorm in Lebanon. The thing is, however, according to news reports, Hezbollah terrorists are advising the LAF in targeting and other matters.
Which raises another question, one of many posted on December 22, 2016 blog post, is U.S. equipment held by the LAF safe from being re-exported or stolen by Hezbollah terrorists? Are the necessary safeguards in place? The equipment may be low-tech, but, as the unnamed Israeli defense official accurately said, it is illegal for U.S. defense articles to be sold, transferred, or otherwise be used by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.
Are Hezbollah fighters being allowed to use or get access to U.S. equipment, in violation of U.S. export control laws? Did the Obama administration know about it, or as some experts on the region have told me, authorized it? Was this part of the Iran deal? And what is this business reported in the Lebanese papers last week about an illegal arms trade? You would think there would be more newsworthy things to report on related to activities in Arsal than, illegal arms trading. In war zones, these things tend to happen. The U.S. government has precautions in place to deal with it, but do the Lebanese?
Are the Lebanese tossing this case in the public domain, sloppily, to curry favor with Members of Congress who have expressed concern about U.S. defense exports to the LAF that have, allegedly, ended up in the hands of terrorists? If that is the case, incidents such as these only serve to reinforce the allegation that the LAF is failing to keep weapons out of the hands of Hezbollah.
Because of domestic Lebanese politics, especially President Michel Aoun’s strong ties to Iran via Hezbollah, the Saudis stopped helping the Lebanese combat Islamic extremists by cutting an assistance package for the LAF reportedly worth $3 billion. It was a very wise decision by the Saudi government. Why hand over aid and assistance that could be diverted by Iran’s key proxy in the region?
According to Congressional sources, the U.S. Congress is reviewing several proposed exports of defense articles and defense services to the LAF. For a variety of reasons several Members of the U.S. Congress, in the House and Senate, have reportedly put a hold on new transfers of U.S. defense articles and defense services. The reasons for these Congressional “holds” include concerns over transfer safeguards, or lack thereof, as well as Hezbollah’s suspected cooperation with Iran in the kidnapping in Iran of U.S. citizens, U.S. Legal Permanent residents, and other foreigners being held hostage by the Iranians.