Lebanon is vulnerable and Washington should help

Sunday 26/06/2016
US Charge d’Affaires Richard H. Jones (C) sits inside a helicopter while Lebanon’s Deputy Chief of Staff General Manuel Kerjian (R) stands next to him during a ceremony at the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, last March.

The writer and wit Toby Young, famed for the book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, recently mulled the idea of what friendship meant to him after most of this chums failed to even turn up at his stag party in Spain a week before he married.
I wonder what the Spectator associate editor would make of the United States’ so-called friend­ship with Lebanon. What do you call such a friendship when the powerful rich partner stands by and does almost nothing when ter­rorists come to your doorstep and threaten your family?
The recent explosion on the Syrian-Jordanian border of a car bomb must have resonated in the ears of Lebanese Army chief Jean Kahwaji — a Christian trained in the United States who regularly complains about Saudi Arabia pulling the plug on $3 billion worth of largely French arms. In March, Saudi Arabia announced it would take the military hardware from the French following Lebanon’s refusal to support Riyadh’s state­ments against Iran.
Last year, the United States sent a cargo ship’s worth of weapons and ammunition and it recently gave Lebanon three helicopters but the Lebanese Army is des­perately under-resourced to fight any battles on the north-eastern border. Is it perhaps the intention of both Iran and Saudi Arabia — maybe even Washington — that it shouldn’t?
According to a recent report, Washington is still interested in helping Lebanon maintain its peace as it continues to arm the Leba­nese Army and assist it in its fight against terrorism.
“Lebanon’s stability is a priority for us,” a US diplomat recently told Agence France-Presse. “Washing­ton has expressed this position to accelerate the programme of arming the Lebanese Army so that it could maintain this stability and confront and win over in the war being waged against terrorism.”
“We look with satisfaction at the security situation in Lebanon and we do not believe that there is a reason to fear for its safety and stability. We are certain that the Lebanese want to preserve their country because they can see the destruction in the neighbouring countries and they do not want to move this war to their own,” added the diplomat.
According to a Lebanese daily newspaper of some repute, the United States has asserted the “ne­cessity to protect Lebanon and pre­vent its collapse in light of what is happening in the region mainly the war in Syria”. A deterioration in the security situation will have danger­ous repercussions on regional and international levels, it added.
In other words, Lebanon’s extraordinary resilience at home — poor security, dysfunctional utilities and no real economy to speak of — combined with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces along with those of Hezbollah recapturing towns in Syria from the Islamic State (ISIS) has led US policy initiatives to be placed on the back burner.
There are considerable argu­ments to assert that the United States, now more than ever, needs to ramp up its military aid to Lebanon. The shifting plates of the Syrian war indicate Lebanon might be a sitting duck for reprisals as we have seen with the bombing on the Jordanian-Syrian border.
The more extremist groups lose ground; the more Lebanon appears an attractive location for revenge attacks. Low-hanging fruit, yes, but a reality that the Americans need to factor, particularly given that Kurdish fighters are recipients of US military aid.
No one imagines that al-Nusra Front and ISIS will not wreak havoc in Lebanon if they continue to lose battles not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq.
When this happens, Lebanon needs to prepare itself for both attacks on Hezbollah-held areas and its border areas. To secure the frontier, a well-equipped army is essential as depleted stocks of ordnance will soon prove to be the Achilles heel of Kahwaji, who is not planning on any party soon, regardless of whether his American friends pay their own air fares.