Withdrawing from the Iran deal, as President Trump announced Tuesday, is a good first step toward reining in the Islamic Republic’s regional mischief. But there’s plenty more to do, as Lebanon proved this week.
Decades ago, Lebanon was a gem at the heart of the Arab Mideast. Now it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran and its Hezbollah lap dog. The group already controlled Lebanon’s Cabinet and foreign policy. And the country’s religious and cultural mosaic is turning increasingly Islamist.
And in elections over the weekend, Hezbollah won enough power to control the parliament, too. The victory completes an impressive capture of a country once proud of its pluralistic ways.
Together with an allied party, Amal, Hezbollah now controls all but one of the 27 seats allotted to Lebanon’s Shiites. But it’s also working with Sunni and Druze legislators, as well as politicians affiliated with the Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad, and forming a bloc capable of vetoing all parliamentary decisions.
But that’s democracy, right? Not quite.
Hezbollah is merely completing a long-term hostile takeover that started with the 2005 assassination of former President Rafik Hariri and continued with the killing of other politicians opposing the Iranian-backed Assad.
As the only armed militia outside government control, Hezbollah captured Lebanon and turned it into a military base. And on behalf of its Iranian masters, it then became an increasingly effective, well-oiled war machine spreading violence across the Mideast and beyond.
Rather than do our utmost to stop this Lebanese takeover, America actually helped complete it.
As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Lebanon watcher, Tony Badran, says, the nuclear deal completed in 2015 helped Iran realize what Barack Obama called its “equities in the region.” Other American objectives, such as the need to enforce a UN resolution banning weapons delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon, fell by the wayside.
Now, Badran says, “collapsing the Iran deal sends the right signal, that America has abandoned that policy.” Yet, he adds, President Trump also should devise a strategy to reverse Obama’s pro-Iran tilt and address its regional expansion.
In Lebanon, such a strategy has yet to materialize. State Department and Pentagon officials left over from the Obama era insist on funding the Lebanese Armed Forces, which are now, like the rest of the country, dominated by Hezbollah.
Thus, visiting Beirut in February, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged the US will continue aid to Lebanon’s military and internal security forces. Worse: Last month, Trump issued a statement addressing an international conference in Paris aimed at boosting foreign investment in Lebanon.
“American companies will look forward to the new opportunities” in Lebanon, now controlled by Hezbollah and its puppet master, Iran, Trump said.
This is bad for America and our allies. Last week, the Houthis, Yemen’s Hezbollah-backed Iranian allies, shot at a Saudi oil tanker traveling in the Red Sea, a strategic sea lane now under the gun. Hezbollah is also helping Iran make inroads in Iraq.
Last week, Morocco cut ties with Iran after discovering that Hezbollah aids and trains the anti-Moroccan Polisario Front. Hezbollah has a strong presence in Latin America and Africa.
Most prominently, it’s the elite ground force fighting on Iran’s behalf in Syria.
Hezbollah uses Lebanon’s civilian areas to store over 100,000 Iranian-supplied projectiles of various sizes and accuracy, positioned to fire at Israel on Tehran’s cue. And now it’s helping Iran set down a second anti-Israel front in Syria. Plus, it recently instigated a potentially hot dispute with Israel and its regional allies over oil drilling in the Mediterranean.
So yes, ending the nuclear deal will start reversing America’s tilt toward Iran. But Trump must also follow up by addressing Iran’s threats to the region and beyond.
Start with cutting all support for Lebanon, now fully controlled by Hezbollah, which violently exports the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary fervor to the region and beyond.
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