On Nov. 4, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigned, condemning Iran and Hizballah’s growing regional dominance. While it remains to be seen how this resignation will affect Lebanon, one thing is clear: Iran and its terrorist proxy Hizballah are effectively consolidating power across the region.
In a televised address from Riyadh, Hariri explained his decision to vacate the post: “Over the past decades, Hizballah has unfortunately managed to impose a fait accompli in Lebanon by the force of its weapons, which it alleges is a resistance weapon. Lebanon and the great Lebanese people became in the eye of the storm [sic] and subjected to international condemnations and economic sanctions because of Iran and its arm Hizballah.”
Iran uses Hizballah to exert strong influence in Lebanon.
Since the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic, Iran has exported its revolutionary presence throughout the Middle East in a bid to restore Persia’s historic imperial role and to supplant American influence. To help accomplish its goals, Tehran provides the Lebanon-based Hizballah up to $1 billion annually and transfers huge weapon stocks to the terrorist organization—including an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles, many of which are capable of striking any location in Israel.
For more than 30 years, Hizballah has served as a de-facto arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Its unmatched military and political influence in Lebanon allow it to: (1) facilitate Iran’s revolutionary goals, (2) promote the spread of Iran’s anti-Israel and anti-American ideologies, and (3) ensure that the Lebanese government is unable to stop the transfer of Iranian weapons across the Lebanese-Syrian border. In addition, it directly threatens Israel, props up the brutal Assad regime in Syria and jeopardizes Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Former Prime Minister Hariri was appointed to Lebanon’s premiership last November as part and parcel of an agreement to choose Gen. Michel Aoun—the hand-picked candidate of Iran and Hizballah—as president. As the Sunni leader of the Saudi-backed March 14 Alliance, Hariri initially opposed Aoun, but he subsequently dropped his opposition. This reversal was stunning, considering that Hizballah was directly responsible for the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
During Hariri’s tenure, Hizballah won “key appointments in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the intelligence and security agencies, the judiciary and state administrative office,” according to Tony Badran, an expert on Lebanon at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “Hariri’s function was simply to provide Hizballah with cover…lobbying Washington for softer sanctions…”
Israel is alarmed by Tehran’s ambitions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Hariri’s resignation should be a “wake-up call to the international community” regarding the threat posed by Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran is “turning Syria into a second Lebanon,” Netanyahu tweeted. “This aggression endangers not only Israel, but the entire Middle East.” Perhaps most concerning, in February 2017, President Aoun declared Hizballah an “essential part of Lebanon’s defense.”
The Way Forward for the United States
While the United States quickly reaffirmed support for Lebanon after Hariri’s resignation, it is incumbent upon American leaders to review our relationships there. Iran continues to undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and employ Hizballah to assert its influence to threaten the Jewish state. The United States must devise a comprehensive bipartisan strategy to counter the threat from Hizballah. To this end, Congress should complete action on the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1595 and H.R.3329), which would target the terrorist group and those that support it.
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