Iran moves to bring the Lebanese Army under its sway

Lebanon’s defense minister, visiting Tehran, warns Israel against ‘any foolishness.’ US has funded Lebanese Army with $720m. since 2006

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Lebanese soldiers on the border with Israel (photo credit: Haim Azulay/Flash90)
Lebanese soldiers on the border with Israel (photo credit: Haim Azulay/Flash90)

Iran has always been the proud patron of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. But now, the Islamic Republic is making overtures towards the Lebanese Army as well. Recent statements emanating from Tehran and Beirut demonstrate a strategic convergence between the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah when it comes to Israel.

Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn met in Tehran on Sunday with senior Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi. Vahidi pledged Iranian support for the Lebanese Army, announcing that strengthening the Lebanese Army was “one of the strategic policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“Lebanon should have a powerful army to defend its interests in the region,” he was quoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency as saying.

Vahidi was quite explicit in stating that Iran viewed Hezbollah and the Lebanese army as two complementary forces, not two antagonistic ones.

“Today, the resistance in Lebanon is not unique to a certain group or denomination,” he told the Tehran Times on Monday. “The army and resistance [Hezbollah] are two wings by which Lebanon is flying toward development, progress, and stability.”

Minister Ghosn, whose Marada movement is allied with Hezbollah, hailed the Iranian aid, confirming the close coordination between the Shiite militia and the army.

“Right now, there is complete coordination between army and the resistance,” Ghosn told Lebanon’s English-language Daily Star Monday. He then proceeded to warn Israel against “any foolishness,” such as attacking Lebanon.

This was not the first bellicose statement made by a Lebanese security official toward Israel in the last few days. Last Wednesday, the chief of Lebanon’s armed forces, Jean Qahwaji, ordered his senior officers “to remain on high alert in confronting the historic enemy of the nation, the Israeli enemy, which violates Lebanese sovereignty on a daily basis,” according to the army’s official website.

The United States has provided over $720 million in funding to the Lebanese Army since 2006, but Congress withheld $100 million in October 2010 following a border incident in which a Lebanese sniper shot and killed an Israeli reserves officer. At the time, Iran offered to fill the funding void left by the United States, the Reuters news agency reported.

Some American politicians continue to worry about the strategic alliance between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state against Israel. As Hezbollah’s victory in the national elections last March became apparent, Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio, chairman of the  Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said the United States should stop funding the Lebanese Army if Hezbollah was included in the government.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the annual American allocation of $100 million to the Lebanese army, saying the army was professional and nonsectarian and that it contributed to security along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

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