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Why America Should Keep Supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces

Why America Should Keep Supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces

Robert G. Rabil

Security, Middle East

This is the only institution counteracting Hezbollah’s power and rallying most Lebanese around the country’s flag. Now, Congress wants to limit its power.

Thanks in no small measure to American political and military support, consecutive Lebanese governments continued to support the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which thus far has tried to remain, as much as possible, impartial to political sectarianism and, under certain circumstances, reserve an independent decision making capacity despite being under civil authority. In fact, the resuscitation of the LAF as a credible domestic force, respected and trusted, unlike other institutions, by most Lebanese has deepened the Hezbollah-LAF nuanced and contradictory relationship.  Largely misunderstood, this relationship has been frowned upon by a number of neoconservatives and their supporters who perceived the LAF as an arm of Hezbollah and therefore have tried to equate Hezbollah with the LAF. 

Conversely, the pentagon, American intelligence and the U.S. embassy in Beirut have supported the LAF as a force of stability and an ally against terrorism. Separate U.S. state department classified dispatches in 2008 made public by Wikileaks uncovered a secret operation Cedar Sweep, whereby American military flew planes over Lebanon in 2008 to identify Hezbollah positions. They also revealed that Defense Minister Michel Murr had given American diplomats advice to pass on to Israel so as to help the latter attack Hezbollah while keeping the LAF uninvolved. It’s noteworthy that the leak of American classified cables and dispatches have put anti-Hezbollah leaders on the defensive and made some of them target for assassination.

This secret cooperation with the U.S. military shored up Hezbollah’s decision to seize Beirut in May 2008 when the Islamist party felt that its security had been compromised by the Lebanese government. The LAF, broadly speaking, did not intervene until the fighting was almost over. Then Commander of the Army Michel Sleiman defended his position by stating that “the events in Beirut and throughout the country represented a real civil war that no national army in the world can confront.”  

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