Crisis or opportunity? Israel, U.S. must tread carefully as Lebanon nears collapse

By Ken Cohen

(FLAME/JNS.org) — It is imperative that the United States and Israel’s other allies ensure that Lebanon not become another Afghanistan — a terror group masquerading as a state. This is a real danger now, and Israel is gravely imperiled by it. America — and all well-meaning peoples — must continue to isolate Hezbollah and its slave government in Lebanon until sanity and civilization return to “the Paris of the Middle East.”

The government and infrastructure of Lebanon are dominated by the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah, which has already dispatched gangs of thugs to drive masses of demonstrators from the streets of major cities like Beirut and Tyre. The government of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri has resigned due to enormous street protests over his utter mismanagement and corruption.

Israel should be worried, because Hezbollah, with its economic and political power threatened, could lash out at its neighbor to the south as a unifying distraction for its outraged citizenry. A repeat of Hezbollah’s terror-missile war of 2006 would be a far more lethal version of that earlier conflict, which aimed to eradicate the “Zionist entity” on Lebanon’s southern frontier.

Since Hezbollah is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran and Iran’s terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran can be expected to play a key role in Lebanese affairs at this critical juncture. And where Iran gets involved, Israel becomes the ultimate target.

Israel has so far tried a leveraging approach that has a shot at getting some positive results from the tumult to its north. Israel has discreetly asked world powers — starting with the United States — to withhold financial aid payments to Lebanon unless the Lebanese government takes immediate action against Hezbollah’s proliferating precision-guided missile upgrades.

Thankfully, America has responded. It has just frozen a $105 million aid payout to Lebanon until the situation there becomes clearer. Meanwhile, the Arab Gulf states wary of Iran are withholding billions that were earlier (foolishly) pledged to keep Lebanon from falling into the abyss.

Lebanon’s territory already houses 130,000 missiles aimed at Israel, courtesy of Hezbollah. The vast majority of these are primitive and lack accuracy — a deficiency balanced by their sheer number. We saw this in the destruction of the 2006 Lebanese war — when only 10 percent of its current armory was available to Hezbollah.

Under Iran’s tutelage and through its massive financial support, Hezbollah has been building facilities across Lebanon to upgrade these missiles with greater range and highly accurate guidance systems. Israel has attacked some of these facilities, but they are proliferating like mushrooms and stand to drastically enhance the Lebanese/Hezbollah threat to all of Israel in coming years.

It’s a threat that makes Hamas’s dangerous but unsophisticated missiles from Gaza seem like tinker toys.

While the entire Lebanese regime is teetering on the brink of collapse due to its own ineptitude and corruption, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has (you guessed it!) blamed Israel for the breakdown.

Lebanon — once known as “Paris of the Middle East” — almost destroyed itself in the civil war of 1975-1990. It welcomed Yasser Arafat and his murderous crew, precipitating Israel’s invasion to drive the PLO terror group out of its northern backyard.

The government and infrastructure of Lebanon now includes representatives from all of the warring factions of old, balancing Sunni and Shi’ite, Druze and Christian. But dominating them all is the ruthless Hezbollah, by far the strongest faction politically and — above all — militarily. It has used political assassinations to consolidate its power in Lebanon, while the impotent Lebanese Army looks on. And Hezbollah’s militias were crucial in securing victory for the brutal Assad regime in Syria — doing much of Iran’s dirty work there.

A United Nations force, UNIFIL, was charged with assuring that Lebanon (i.e., Hezbollah) didn’t re-arm after the 2006 war with Israel. Predictably, UNIFIL has been neutered by Hezbollah — and the corrupt Lebanese government — and the missile threat to Israel is now 10 times what it was, and growing in size and precision on a daily basis.

Lebanese banks have been closed for two weeks, and the country’s currency was devalued by 25 percent almost overnight. ATMs are either closed or not dispensing dollars — the preferred secondary currency in Lebanon for decades. Electricity is cut off daily; the more politically connected Lebanese all own private generators.

Leading politicians of the various sects and factions utterly control the banking sector, and charge their own government usurious interest on the gigantic public debt: Lebanon’s national debt is over 150 percent of its GDP, and ongoing deficits are monstrous.

The corrupt kleptocracy that runs Lebanon is led by Hezbollah, which siphons massive amounts of tax money for the growth and lethality of its anti-Israel arsenal.

With the publicly demanded collapse of the Lebanese regime, Hezbollah, with its guns, missiles, battle-hardened fighters and uncompromising anti-Israel philosophy stands to become identical with “Lebanon.” It’s vital that America do all it can to prevent a near-inevitable war as Hezbollah becomes both endangered and emboldened by the mass demonstrations that threaten the hapless regime in Lebanon.

Ken Cohen is co-editor of the Hotline published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

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