Saturday, April 30, 2016

U.S. Government Officially Presents Motorcycles and Vehicles to the Internal Security Forces

April 27, 2016

The U.S. Chargé d'Affaires ad interim Ambassador Richard H. Jones presented 40 Harley Davidson motorcycles, four passenger vans, and five passenger buses to the Internal Security Forces (ISF) on Wednesday, April 27 at the ISF Mobile Forces premises in Dbayeh.  The ceremony took place in the presence of the Head of the ISF Mobile Forces Brigadier General Fadi El Hachem.  Anthony Fernandes, Director of the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), Office for Africa and the Middle East, was also present at the ceremony.

The passenger vans and the buses will be utilized by the Judicial Police and the ISF Academy, while the motorcycles will be used for traffic management and for VIP escort responsibilities. 

INL has provided $160 million in assistance to the ISF since 2008, in support of strengthening the professional capacity of Lebanese law enforcement and as part of the overall U.S. security assistance program to Lebanon. 


Following are the Chargé d'Affaires' remarks as prepared for the event:

Good morning and thank you all for coming today.  On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I am pleased to be here, along with Tony Fernandes, the INL Director for Africa and the Middle East, and several of my Embassy colleagues.  Brigadier General Hachem, thank you for your kind hospitality today.

The U.S. Embassy is proud to partner with the ISF in training and equipping Lebanese security forces to keep the Lebanese people and their homeland safe.  Since 2008, the State Department's Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut has provided over $160 million in assistance to the ISF.  Today's ceremony marking the official turnover of 40 Harley Davidson motorcycles, four passenger vans, and five passenger buses, is another step in helping to ensure that the ISF has the equipment it needs to effectively deliver law enforcement services to the Lebanese public.

Today we are marking another tangible example of the continued cooperation between the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, the ISF, and the United States Government.  We are committed to working together to further strengthen both the professionalism and the capabilities of the ISF.

There are a number of recent examples of law enforcement successes by the ISF for which you should be proud.  I would like to congratulate both the leadership of the ISF as well as its officers for the recent arrests and disruption of a network that engaged in the abhorrent practice of trafficking in persons.  It is these kinds of achievements that help to keep Lebanon safe for its residents and reflect the commitment of Lebanese authorities to upholding the rule of law.

From our side, the United States' partnership with the ISF is part of our long-standing pledge to work with the Lebanese people and the institutions of the state, especially those in the security sector, to build a more stable and prosperous Lebanon.

Thank you.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Rubio And Shaheen Urge Full Implementation Of Hizballah Sanctions

Secretary Jacob Lew
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Secretary John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Apr 07 2016 

Dear Secretary Lew and Secretary Kerry:
We are writing to encourage you to apply increased pressure on Hizballah, by fully implementing the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 that was signed into law last year and by seeking broader designation of Hizballah as a terrorist organization. 
As you know, Hizballah has a long history of terrorist attacks against the United States and Israel.  Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah publicly stated in 2013 that Hizballah would support Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime by sending fighters to Syria.  We were pleased to see the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization.  It is unfortunate the European Union still only designates the "military wing" of Hizballah.  It is important to continue pressure on Hizballah and its operatives to ensure it is not able to carry out terrorist or destabilizing activities, especially in light of Treasury's statement in January that Hizballah continues to launder funds and foment violence in Lebanon, Syria, and across the region.  We should encourage the European Union to designate the entire Hizballah organization as a terrorist group and provide all necessary support to accomplish that goal.
We were pleased to see the Treasury Department sanction Hizballah financiers in January and the Drug Enforcement Agency arrests, but it is also important that financial institutions complicit in aiding these financiers are sanctioned for their activities.  The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 provides for mandatory sanctions against foreign financial institutions and we urge you to aggressively utilize this authority to target the very financial institutions that allow Hizballah to transfer money for its nefarious activities.  We strongly urge you to designate a financial institution to send an important signal about our bipartisan resolve in countering Hizballah's activities.
We are interested in receiving a briefing on your Administration's efforts to implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 and efforts to convince Europe to join the United States and our Arab and Gulf allies in condemning Hizballah as a terrorist organization.  The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 required the submission of reports (Sec.101(a), Sec.102(d), Sec.203(a), and Sec.204(a)) and briefings (Sec.203(b) and Sec.204(b)) not later than 90 days after the date of enactment, please update us on the status of these reports and briefings.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Senator Marco Rubio
Senator Jeanne Shaheen

Statement of Andrew Exum Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy

Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa 
U.S. Policy Towards Lebanon 
Statement of Andrew Exum Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy
April 28, 2016

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to discuss U.S. policy towards Lebanon. Ambassador Feierstein highlighted the array of interlocking challenges that Lebanon confronts and gave an overview of our comprehensiveCV? strategy in Lebanon. My own experience in Lebanon is personal as well as professional. I lived in Lebanon for two years while attending the American University of Beirut, of which I am a proud graduate, and I returned to Lebanon for another eight months in 2008 to conduct research toward the completion of my doctoral dissertation.
If you had told me five years ago that Lebanon would be flooded with over one million refugees from a brutal, sectarian civil war in Syria but would somehow remain an oasis of relative calm in the Middle East, I would not have believed you. I would have explained – probably with no small amount of condescension – that I was an expert on Lebanon and that what you were describing to me was impossible given Lebanon's own difficult history of sectarian conflict.
Yet I would have been wrong. I would have undervalued the drivers of stability in Lebanon – choosing to focus on the more obvious drivers of instability – and I would have, most importantly, underestimated the role the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has played in keeping Lebanon cohesive and at peace with its neighbors and itself.
I intend to focus my comments on our military cooperation with the LAF, which is a core pillar of our policy in Lebanon and something that we can all – from our tax-payers to our special operations soldiers to our policy-makers – be proud of. Amidst all of the challenges Lebanon confronts, the LAF remains one of the country's only highly functioning national institutions. Our support has enabled the LAF to beat back the advances of ISIL and other extremist groups such as the Nusra Front, although not without some high degree of sacrifice from our Lebanese partners. Strengthening the LAF also advances a range of U.S. interests in the Middle East that includes not only countering the spread of ISIL and other violent extremists but also stemming the influence of Iran and Hizballah in the region. 
U.S. Support to the Lebanese Armed Forces 
In 2006, following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the United States launched a security assistance program with our Lebanese partners focused on providing training and equipment designed to develop the capability of the LAF. Since that time, these efforts have constituted the backbone of U.S. policy to promote Lebanon's sovereignty and security. During my time as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, my interactions with a range of political and military actors in Lebanon confirm that the United States' continued engagement and assistance to the LAF are more important now than ever. The brutal suicide bomb attack in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut on November 12, 2015, which tragically killed 43 innocent civilians, underscores the importance of our assistance the LAF and other security services in Lebanon.
Since 2006, the United States has provided Lebanon more than $1.2 billion in military assistance that aims to build a LAF that: 1) is capable of maintaining internal stability and security in Lebanon; 2) is capable of securing Lebanon's borders and of preventing ISIL and other foreign extremists from destabilizing the country; and 3) is the preeminent military force in Lebanon, undermining the claims of Hizballah and other militias for maintaining their arms as well as the claim of Hizballah to be acting in defense of Lebanon's interests.
More recently, with Lebanon's increased threats from ISIL and other extremists, we have significantly increased U.S. security assistance, which totaled over $200 million in fiscal year 2015. As you know, we have enabled Iraqi and Syria partners to make significant gains against ISIL over the past year. But our worry has always been that as we squeeze ISIL from the east and north that will create more pressure on Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west. For that reason, we have concentrated our enhanced assistance on bolstering the capabilities that are crucial to the LAF's ability to counter groups like ISIL and Nusra. This has included providing the LAF with critically needed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms; air strike capabilities and munitions; arms and equipment for the Lebanese Special Operations Forces (LSOF); and border security enhancements. Specifically, in 2015 the Department of Defense delivered 92 Hellfire missiles, 12 Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and supported the uparming of the LAF's second Cessna aircraft, which gives the LAF the ability to strike ISIL militants with pinpoint precision. 
During FY 2015, the Department of Defense provided $59 million in Counterterrorism Partnership Funds (CTPF) support for border security. The project is intended to build the capacity of the LAF to defend the borders of Lebanon against threat from ISIL and Nusra. Under this effort, DoD anticipates delivery of equipment in late spring, including vehicles, radios, night vision devices, small arms, ammunition, and medical supplies for the LAF.
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) advisors continue to provide training and professionalization support of the LAF. The training – which, in my estimation, is the single most effective means to improving the LAF's capability to counter violent extremism in Lebanon – is designed to provide a full spectrum of instruction, concentrating not only on operational and tactical competencies, but also instructing the Lebanese Special Operations Forces on all the core aspects of a mission, from planning to execution. 
To bolster the LAF's status as a stable institution in Lebanon, in addition to focusing U.S. assistance on building up the LAF's operational capability, we also seek to ensure that the LAF is trained as a highly professional military. As such, our International Military Education and Training (IMET) program – which is overseen by my colleagues at the Department of State – is the fifth largest IMET program in the world in FY 2016. IMET builds strong ties between the United States and Lebanon by bringing Lebanese military officers to the United States for professional development and to train alongside U.S. military and other international students. For example, in fiscal year 2015, the IMET program supported 119 Lebanese military students to attend education and training classes in the United States. Since 1985, the IMET program has brought more than 1,000 Lebanese military students to the United States for education and training. IMET builds relationships and good will between some of the most senior U.S. and Lebanese military officers – this program truly has a generational impact. 
Finally, in October, the President announced that the United States would intensify security assistance to Lebanon as a part of the campaign to counter ISIL. To execute the President's guidance, Lebanon will likely continue to be one of the Department of Defense's priority countries for Counterterrorism Partnerships Funding in fiscal year 2016 to continue to bolster the LAF capability to counter ISIL and other extremists. 
Effectiveness of U.S. Policy with the LAF
 This week, I had the opportunity to meet with a delegation of senior general officers from the LAF during DoD's annual U.S.-Lebanon Joint Staff Talks. Some of these general officers I have known for years dating back to when I served as the desk officer for Lebanon at DoD, and they are among our closest partners in the region. But don't take my word for it: ask any one of the hundreds of special operators who have served in Lebanon over the past five years. They will tell you the Lebanese are among the best partners we have in the region to work with. They train hard, and they fight hard. We can't ask for more.
This week's meetings underscored that our strategy in Lebanon is bearing fruit as the LAF continues to develop as a force, while simultaneously showing a strong willingness to successfully engage ISIL. Beginning in August 2014, in the first large-scale offensive inside Lebanon's border, the LAF repelled a combined force of hundreds of ISIL and Nusra fighters near the town of Arsal along Lebanon's border with Syria.
Since this battle, the LAF has taken a variety of bold measures to maintain stability in Lebanon and counter the destabilizing effects of the Syrian conflict. The LAF has increased its operational tempo and reinforced Lebanon's borders with additional border and special operations forces. These forces have been highly active, engaging militants on a weekly basis by launching artillery and air strikes, by executing clearing operations in extremist-associated neighborhoods, and by conducting raids and arrests. High-profile arrests by the LAF and other security services include the apprehension of radical Salafist cleric Ahmed al-Asir, ISIL operative Omar Miqati, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing suspect Ahmed al-Mughassil. The effectiveness of U.S. assistance and the LAF's willingness to exercise its role as the sole legitimate defense force in Lebanon was further underscored on March 10, 2016, when the LAF executed the daring operation in Ras Baalbek that killed over a dozen ISIL fighters and destroyed ISIL vehicles, a command post, and a safe house.
In the face of these rising challenges, the LAF has demonstrated considerable unity, fortitude, and professionalism. The LAF has organized itself effectively to maintain a tremendously high operational tempo for many of its units, and has demonstrated the ability to make appropriate requests for and use of equipment, as well as unity and professionalism in numerous operations. Because of its continued success, the LAF now enjoys strong support across Lebanese sects with an approval rating over 90%, according to some recent polls in the opensource. This level of support is also derived from the truly multi-confessional nature of the LAF – which comprises approximately 35% Sunni, 27% Shia, 13% Maronite Christian, 6% Druze, 6% Greek Orthodox, and 4% Greek Catholic.
The High Cost of Failure 
 Although the LAF has prevented ISIL from destabilizing the country to date, the stakes for LAF failure are high. If the LAF falters in its fight against extremists, Hizballah or even long-demilitarized Christian militias could decide to seek to take the direct military actions to protect their communities, resulting in an outbreak of sectarian fighting that could undermine stability of Lebanon. A LAF
defeat, combined with a Hizballah victory over extremist forces, risks strengthening Hizballah and Iran inside Lebanon and therefore undermining U.S. policy efforts to bolster Lebanese state institutions' ability to exert sovereign authority throughout Lebanon. 
Supporting Stability in Lebanon
 As the United States faces a strategic environment in the Middle East that is the most unstable it has been in 40 years, our positive relationship with, and continued support to, Lebanon and the LAF are more important than ever. The LAF remains a critical pillar of Lebanon's stability, and its commitment to curtailing sectarian fighting and terrorism has been a significant factor in preventing Lebanon from descending into greater violence and instability.
Representative Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Deutch, I thank you and the other distinguished Members of the Subcommittee for calling this hearing and drawing attention to Lebanon's security challenges and the U.S. security interest in supporting Lebanon during this critical time.

Statement of Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa 
U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon 
Statement of Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs 
April 28, 2016
Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to discuss United States policy towards Lebanon. Promoting a Lebanon that is independent, sovereign, stable, prosperous, and religiously diverse is crucial to advancing a range of U.S. interests in the Middle East. Lebanon today faces three critical challenges: first, the spillover effects of the Syrian conflict, including refugee flows into Lebanon and security threats such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Nusra Front; second, the activities of Hizballah, a terrorist organization that puts its own interests and those of its foreign backers ahead of those of the Lebanese people; and third, a political crisis that has nearly paralyzed government decisionmaking and left the country without a president for almost two years. We are grateful to Congress for its strong support of U.S. assistance to Lebanon and for the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act, signed into law last December. This legislation provides us with critical new tools to dismantle Hizballah's global financial network. 
Our comprehensive strategy for helping Lebanon address these challenges is simple: ensure that the Lebanese security forces have the tools they need to prevent ISIL from destabilizing the country while helping build legitimate state institutions in order to deny Hizballah what it seeks to avoid: a strong central government capable of providing services for the entire country. 
The conflict in Syria has severely tested Lebanon's resilience. There are over 145,000 refugee children from Syria in Lebanese public schools. Lebanon is now running a second school shift to make this happen. Our assistance to refugees from Syria – and to the Lebanese communities which have graciously hosted them for nearly five years – has helped alleviated the economic burden on the Lebanese people. In February 2016 at the London Humanitarian Conference, Secretary Kerry announced over $133 million in new humanitarian aid, bringing the U.S. contribution to Lebanon to over $1.1 billion since the start of the crisis. At the London conference, Lebanon made significant new commitments to educate and employ Syrian refugees. We are looking to the Lebanese to fulfill those commitments as soon as possible. Our shared goal is to prevent a "lost generation" of Syrians with no resources, no education, and no hope.
Lebanon faces a real threat from ISIL and the Nusra Front. This is why support to Lebanon's legitimate state security institutions, in particular the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), is a down payment on a long-term investment in regional stability. The LAF, not Hizballah, is responsible for protecting the country from ISIL and Nusra. The international community must come together to increase, not decrease, assistance to the security forces to enhance their capabilities in defense of Lebanon's security. 
Our strategy, which builds on U.S. security assistance programs launched after the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, is bearing fruit. Lebanon is an active partner in the global coalition to combat ISIL and is now confronting them along the Lebanese-Syrian border. The brutal suicide bomb attack in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut on November 12, 2015, which killed 43 civilians, served as a stark reminder that we are in the fight against ISIL together. We believe that international counter-terrorism cooperation with Lebanese authorities, however, has prevented other attacks. In January 2016, in a briefing for Members and staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, spoke to the progress his troops have made in taking terrorists off the battlefield in northeastern Lebanon and preventing ISIL fighters from flowing into Lebanon. Using equipment provided under our Foreign Military Financing program – $150 million provided during FY 2015 – the LAF has prevented further attacks by ISIL launched from Syria, so that northeastern Lebanon is no longer in immediate danger from cross-border incursions by violent extremist groups. Lebanese aircraft use U.S.-supplied Hellfire missiles to pinpoint terrorists and take them out. The effectiveness of this firepower and U.S. training was on full display in the early hours of March 10, 2016. That morning, the Lebanese Forces executed a daring operation outside Ras Baalbek, which took out over a dozen ISIL fighters and destroyed ISIL vehicles, a command post, and a safe house. I will defer to my Pentagon colleague to discuss our relationship with Lebanon's security institutions in greater depth.
Our close counterterrorism cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces and Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) is also helping target threats to both Lebanon and the U.S. Homeland. For example, the FBI-trained ISF now conducts forensic investigations using the latest post-blast investigation techniques. These investigative skills make the ISF more effective partners and leaders in counterterrorism operations and major incident response. With State Department assistance, the ISF is transforming into a modern, capable force ready to conduct advanced counterterrorist operations and maintain safety and security throughout the country for all Lebanese people. We are helping the ISF better target organized crime nodes and investigate more efficiently in addition to providing training in human rights and community policing. Our assistance to the ISF also helps relieve the Lebanese Armed Forces from internal security matters and law enforcement duties, enabling the military to devote its full attention to external threats such as ISIL and the Nusra Front.
However, our cooperation is not limited to counterterrorism. Combatting trafficking-in-persons is one of our highest priorities in Lebanon. Lebanon has made gains in targeting human traffickers, the slave traders of our day. The Internal Security Forces raided a human trafficking ring in late March, arresting 16 traffickers and rescuing 75 victims. The traffickers had lured the victims, almost all Syrian women and girls, to Lebanon under false pretenses and forced them into prostitution. More recently, on April 21, the Lebanese military arrested five individuals allegedly involved in a trafficking ring in the eastern Bekaa Valley and seized two vehicles used to smuggle their victims from Syria into Lebanon. Still, there is more the Lebanese Government can do to combat trafficking, including enacting legislation such as the National Action Plan and National Strategy to Combat Trafficking.
I want to stress that our assistance to Lebanon and its people is much broader than the security sector. We provided $65 million in Economic Support Funds for Lebanon in FY 2015. Through our USAID mission in Beirut, we are training teachers, rehabilitating school buildings, providing classroom equipment, repairing water pumping stations, and building up the capacity of civil society organizations by improving their financial management controls. 
I want to turn to the second challenge that threatens Lebanon and one I know this Committee tracks closely, Hizballah. When Hizballah intervened in Syria beginning in 2012 to prop up the Asad regime, the group showed its true colors to anyone who still doubted Hizballah puts its own interests and those of its foreign backers ahead of those of the Lebanese people. When Hizballah conducts terrorist attacks abroad or drags Lebanon into the war in neighboring Syria, it is ordinary Lebanese people who pay the price – in security threats, lost tourism and investment revenue, and reputation. These costs are, unfortunately, very tangible. 
The U.S. government is actively implementing the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA). The Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued new regulations, as required by HIFPA, on April 15. Simultaneously, OFAC identified approximately 100 previously designated persons as agents, instrumentalities, and/or affiliates of Hizballah, or as persons designated for acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or being owned or controlled by, Hizballah. The governor of the Lebanese Central Bank immediately announced that Lebanon would comply with these regulations. We will use our full authority under HIFPA to target foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate significant transactions or engage in money-laundering activities or certain other activities related to Hizballah. If the U.S. government has the necessary evidence, we will build a case, and we will take action. Before the passage of HIFPA, we already targeted the nodes of Hizballah's international financing by designating over 100 Hizballah-affiliated individuals and entities. The world is rallying against Hizballah. We welcome decisions by the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to treat Hizballah as a terrorist organization. Two weeks ago, the State Department, Justice Department, and the Department of the Treasury held a law enforcement workshop for GCC countries in Manama, Bahrain, to improve our partners' capacity to address Hizballah's activities.
As we go after Hizballah and its backers around the world, our target is not Lebanon or the Lebanese economy. On the contrary, we cooperate closely with the Central Bank and Lebanese banks on money-laundering and counterterrorist finance. Lebanese screen transactions against OFAC's Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.
The third major challenge Lebanon faces is restoring effective governance. Providing for a country's security requires effective political leadership. We commend Prime Minister Tammam Salam for his courage and perseverance in addressing Lebanon's most pressing challenges. But he cannot do the job alone. Next month will mark two years the Lebanon people have been without a president. The price – political and economic – of this political dysfunction has been alarmingly high. The presidential vacancy has bred an ineffective cabinet and an absentee parliament, leading to forgone foreign investment, a garbage collection crisis, and worsening electricity coverage. Without an effective cabinet and parliament that meets regularly to make decisions and do the people's work, Prime Minister Salam alone cannot address these issues.
Now is the time for Lebanon to uphold its democratic principles and for the Lebanese parliament to meet and elect a president according to the constitution. Through the International Support Group for Lebanon, the United States has rallied the international community to speak with a united voice in calling for an end to the presidential vacancy. The Lebanese people deserve a government that can deliver basic services, promote economic prosperity, and address the country's most pressing security challenges. Some in Lebanon are tempted to lay the problem at the doorstep of the international community. But electing a president and ending the governance crisis is first and foremost a Lebanese responsibility.
They are the ones who have the greatest stake in their country's success. Lebanon's leaders – particularly those who are blocking a quorum from convening in parliament – must put the interests of the Lebanese people first by electing a president and restoring a fully functioning government. Lebanese political leaders can count on the international community's strong support as they do so. 
I want to highlight the importance of nurturing people-to-people ties between our two countries. This often overlooked aspect of our diplomacy is a crucial ingredient in some of our biggest successes. In February, a multi-partisan delegation of Lebanese Members of Parliament visited Washington to meet with the Executive Branch and Members of Congress, including the House Lebanon Caucus. Impressed by the depth of knowledge on Lebanon they encountered in the U.S. Congress, the delegation returned to Beirut and decided to establish a "U.S. Caucus" in the Lebanese Parliament to strengthen ties with the United States.
Also in February, with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Prime south, a Columbia, South Carolina-based company, won a five-year $339 million contract to operate two power plants in Lebanon. These are just a few examples of our close ties. In March, it was an Internal Security Forces officer who remembered his week in the United States participating in an anti-trafficking course under the State Department's International Visitors Leadership Program who alerted his superiors to what he rightly suspected was a major trafficking ring in Lebanon. The officer's actions led to the successful anti-trafficking operation I mentioned earlier in my statement. This month, the State Department sponsored a visit to Beirut by a West Palm Beach, Florida-based energy expert, Tom Henderson, to show the Lebanese how cutting-edge technology can turn solid waste into electricity. 
Madame Chairman and, in these and many other ways, we are contributing to the stability, independence and security of Lebanon, which is as much in the U.S. interest as it is Lebanon's. 
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee. I welcome the opportunity answer your questions.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

CENTCOM Commander General Votel Visits Lebanon

April 15, 2016
Today, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Joseph L. Votel visited Lebanon today as part of a multi-stop tour of the Middle East.  This is his first trip to the region since assuming his role as CENTCOM Commander on March 30, 2016.  In Lebanon, General Votel met with Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander General Jean Kahwagi and other key leaders of Lebanese Armed Forces.  He also observed military exercises at the Hamat Air Base.  During his meetings with the LAF, General Votel reaffirmed the Lebanese-American partnership in countering the threat of terrorism and reiterated the United States' confidence in the capabilities of the LAF in its role as the defender of Lebanon.  General Votel renewed the United States' sustained commitment to providing the LAF with top-quality weapons, equipment, and training so that the Lebanese state can exercise its sovereign authority on the border and throughout the country, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701.  Since 2004, America has provided over $1.4 billion dollars in security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, including both training and equipment. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Hezbollah’s Growing Threat Against U.S. National Security Interests in the Middle East

Testimony for House Foreign Affairs Committee; 
Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa 
22nd March 2016 

Chair Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee.

The Syrian uprising constitutes one of the greatest challenges that Iran and Hezbollah have faced in decades. The collapse of the Assad regime would have, in the words of then-Commander of U.S. Central Command General James Mattis, dealt Iran "the biggest strategic setback in 25 years." It would have cut Iran's only land bridge to Lebanon, and deprived Hezbollah of its strategic depth.

Unfortunately, the situation in Syria has resulted in the opposite effect. While many, perhaps most, observers have tended to view Syria as a bloody quagmire that will erode Iranian ambitions, Tehran has deftly exploited the conflict, turning the strategic challenge it faces into an opportunity to expand its influence throughout the region.

In doing so, Iran has followed a well-developed template. It is building up Shiite militias, which it recruits from around the Greater Middle East, on the model of Hezbollah. This means it places the militias under the operational command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and demands from them full allegiance to the Iranian regional project. The template goes back to the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution, but in recent years Iran has expanded its use to an extent never-before seen, with the biggest growth being in Iraq. Hezbollah, however, is the crown jewel of this region-wide network, with nodes in Syria, the Arab Gulf states, and, of course, Yemen.

This is arguably the most significant and most under-appreciated development in the region over the past five years. Iran's expansionist drive, through its legion of Shiite militias based on the model of Hezbollah and often trained by the group, has not been opposed by the U.S. If anything, Washington has effectively acquiesced to it, viewing it as a means to affect a new regional "equilibrium."

This has forced traditional U.S. regional allies – from Israel to Saudi Arabia – to look for measures to try and stop this emerging shift in the regional balance of power, which directly impacts their national security interests.

Although the effects are region-wide, this Iranian strategy has played out most consequentially in Syria. Five years into the uprising against the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah have secured their core interests in Syria. Hezbollah has taken significant losses at the tactical level but those have been offset by significant gains: Hezbollah is now better equipped and more operationally experienced than ever before.

The first-order priority for Hezbollah and Iran was to secure Assad's rule in Damascus and Western Syria. Maintaining control over key real estate in order to ensure territorial contiguity with Lebanon was essential. In fact, the Iran-Assad-Hezbollah axis showed a willingness to forgo ancillary territory relatively early in the conflict in order to secure the corridor between what might be called Assadistan and Hezbollahstan. Specifically, Hezbollah and Iran were determined to hold the areas adjacent to Lebanon's eastern border and secure the routes to Damascus. This is essential for safeguarding arms transfers from Iran to Lebanon, as well as for protecting weapons storage depots on Syrian soil. Hezbollah is now reportedly also working to ethnically cleanse these areas.

The campaign to create the security corridor has ensured that Hezbollah's supply lines have remained open and uninterrupted. In fact, shipments into Lebanon from Syria may have even accelerated, and they may have included the transfer of certain strategic weapons systems that were kept on Syrian soil, as evident from the list of reported Israeli airstrikes over the last three years.

As part of its effort to secure the border, Hezbollah deepened its partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), whose cooperation has been vital – and not only on the Syrian front. As Hezbollah began to face backlash in the form of car bombs in Beirut over its involvement in Syria in 2013, it looked to the LAF for support in protecting its domestic flank.

The partnership between the LAF and Hezbollah has grown to such an extent that it is now meaningful to speak of the LAF as an auxiliary force in Hezbollah's war effort. Indeed, in explaining the recent decision by Saudi Arabia to pull its $3 billion grant to the LAF, Saudi columnist Abdul Rahman al-Rashed wrote, "Hezbollah has started to use the army as its auxiliary in the war against the Syrians, which protects its lines and borders."

In certain instances, LAF troops and Hezbollah forces have deployed troops jointly, such as during street battles with the followers of a minor Sunni cleric in Sidon in 2013. The LAF routinely raids Syrian refugee camps and Sunni cities in Lebanon, rounding up Sunni men and often detaining them without charges. In a number of cases, it has arrested defected Syrian officers in the Free Syrian Army, either handing them back to the Assad regime, or, in some cases, delivering them to Hezbollah, which then uses them in prisoner swaps with the Syrian rebels.

The LAF-Hezbollah synergy is broadly recognized in the region, with strategic implications that have been only dimly perceived in the United States. The Saudis, as I noted above, have reacted by withdrawing their aid to the LAF – and they are by no means alone. The Israelis have no choice to but expect that if war should break out between them and Hezbollah, the LAF will come to the direct aid of the latter. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have therefore warned that in the next war, they will certainly target the LAF. In contrast to the policies of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is not making its aid to the LAF contingent on it severing its operational ties with Hezbollah – a policy which many in the Middle East see as facilitating the partnership between the two.

Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon is by no means limited to its partnership with the LAF. Hezbollah exploits the weak and dysfunctional Lebanese state in order to advance its interests. It exerts direct influence over, for example, the Lebanese customs authority and the financial auditor's office in order to protect its criminal enterprises, and uses Lebanese territory for the training of Shiite militias in the Iranian network. As Lebanon's Interior Minister observed earlier this month, Lebanon is now the IRGC's "external operations room for training and sending fighters all over the world." Through Hezbollah, Iran has made the Lebanese state complicit in its activities.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly last October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that despite Israel's interdiction efforts, and in violation of UNSCR 1701, Iran had managed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon, specifically the Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, SA-22 (Pantsyr-S1) air defense system, and precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles – which presumably includes the upgraded Iranian Fateh-110 missiles with integrated GPS navigation.

The Yakhont and the precision-guided missiles pose serious threats to Israel because they are capable of hitting strategic installations and targets deep inside the country as well as offshore. These advanced systems are, of course, in addition to the estimated 100,000 rockets and missiles that Hezbollah has already stored in Lebanon – mainly in civilian areas. When one considers that Hezbollah has the capability to rain down 1,500 rockets a day on Israel, it becomes clear that civilian casualties in the next war will be much higher on both sides than in any of the previous wars.

IDF officers believe that Hezbollah has amassed valuable tactical experience in Syria. The military capabilities of the Syrian opposition do not compare to those of the IDF; nevertheless, Hezbollah's units are mastering the use of diverse weapons systems, in both urban and rural settings. Over the past year, this experience has included working together with the Russian military, which has introduced new weapons systems and combined arms operations to the Syrian theater. In fact, Hezbollah, Iranian, and Russian officers have worked together on planning operations, and a joint operations room was reportedly also established in Iraq last year.

Iran and Hezbollah clearly intend to leverage their success in Syria to change the balance of power with Israel. Specifically, they have set their sights on expanding into the Golan Heights, and on linking it to the south Lebanon front. They signaled the importance they attached to this effort by sending a group of high-ranking Iranian and Hezbollah officers on a mission to Quneitra in January 2015. The Israelis destroyed that particular group, but we can be certain that they will resume their push there at a later date.

Iran and Hezbollah have invested in local Syrian communities to create a Syrian franchise of Hezbollah. Besides developing Alawite militias, they have also invested in Syria's Shiite and Druze communities. The Druze, by virtue of their concentration in southern Syria, are particularly attractive as potential partners. Hezbollah has cultivated recruits from the Druze of Quneitra and has used them in a number of attacks in the Golan over the past couple of years. In addition to recruitment to Syrian Hezbollah or other Shiite militias in Quneitra, there have also been some efforts with the Druze of Suwayda province near the Jordanian border.

As a result, the IDF is preparing for offensive incursions by Hezbollah into northern Israel in the next conflict. For Israel, Hezbollah's use of Lebanon as an Iranian forward missile base, its expansion into Syria with an aim to link the Golan to Lebanon, and the prospect of this reality soon getting an Iranian nuclear umbrella, creates an unacceptable situation which, under the right circumstances, could easily trigger a major conflict.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Israeli officials have been loudly voicing the position that any settlement in Syria cannot leave Iran and Hezbollah in a position of dominance, and certainly not anywhere near the Golan. Unfortunately, this position is directly at odds with current U.S. policy. President Obama has stated that any solution in Syria must respect and protect so-called Iranian "equities" in Syria. When one actually spells out what these "equities" are – namely preserving the Syrian bridge to Hezbollah in Lebanon – it becomes clear that U.S. policy in Syria inadvertently complicates Israel's security challenge.

It also complicates the challenges of other critical U.S. allies, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Hezbollah's expansion has also spurred a Saudi-led campaign targeting the group, culminating in its designation as a terrorist organization by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League. The Saudis have also announced measures to freeze the accounts of any citizen or expatriate suspected of belonging to or supporting Hezbollah. Supporters would be prosecuted, jailed, and deported. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have followed suit, deporting a number of Lebanese expatriates with connections to Hezbollah.

There is talk – or perhaps a threat – that the Saudis might go after not just Shiite supporters, but also Christian businessmen who support the group or are part of its financial schemes, and who are seen as weak links because of their financial interests in the Gulf. The potential impact of Saudi measures against Hezbollah could be significant if followed through. However, as noted earlier regarding Hezbollah's relationship with the LAF, the Saudis have come to recognize that the Lebanese state itself is in Hezbollah's grip.

This is a bleak picture, but there are steps that Congress can take to help steer U.S. policy in the right direction.

First, Congress should push the administration on the implementation of H.R. 2297, targeting Hezbollah's criminal and financial activities. It's important not to be dissuaded by the argument that pushing too hard would break Lebanon's economy. It is critical to realize that Hezbollah's position in the Lebanese state and economy increasingly resembles that of the IRGC in the Iranian state. Moreover, it would be worthwhile to use the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council designation of Hezbollah to encourage the European Union to follow their lead in designating all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Second, security assistance to the LAF should be, at a minimum, reviewed. Although the Obama administration is said to be unhappy with the Saudi decision to suspend its aid to the LAF, it is a sound decision and should push the U.S. to reconsider its own policies. The United States cannot, under the pretext of combating Sunni jihadism, align with Iranian assets and Iranian-dominated "state institutions." Using this pretext, the U.S. has looked the other way from, if not condoned, the partnership between the LAF and Hezbollah. The result has been that U.S. military support and intelligence sharing has helped Hezbollah, if only indirectly.

Finally and more broadly, the United States must conduct comprehensive realignment in the Middle East away from Iran and back towards its traditional allies. The place to begin that realignment is Syria. Instead of pushing for an endgame in Syria which preserves so-called Iranian "equities," or which creates cantons that function as Iranian protectorates, the United States should be working with its allies to impose severe costs on Hezbollah for its Syrian adventure.

Obviously, the White House holds the keys to such a realignment, but Congress can certainly help. It can, for example, hold the administration to its promise to "push back" against Iranian regional expansionism. Our Israeli, Jordanian, and Saudi allies have voiced their deep concerns about how a Syrian endgame that leaves Iran entrenched in Syria threatens their security. The U.S. response should not be to tell them to "share the region" with Iran. Rather, it should be to help them roll back the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's growing threat against U.S. national security interests in the Middle East

Testimony | 

Editor's Note: Daniel Byman testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa on Hezbollah's growing threat against U.S. national security interests in the Middle East. Read his full testimony below.

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, members of this distinguished subcommittee, and subcommittee staff, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

Founded over thirty years ago, the Lebanese Hizballah is one of the most powerful and dangerous rebel and terrorist groups in the world. Hizballah, however, is in a time of transition. The Syrian civil war in particular has transformed the group, undermining its position in Lebanon, altering its focus in the region, and tarnishing its image in the Middle East. The group remains a threat to the United States and particularly to Israel, but the tentative deterrence Israel has established is likely to hold, though many factors could upset this uneasy peace. For now, Hizballah has even less interest in a direct clash with the United States. However, the group's close relationship with Iran and ideological opposition to a U.S. role in the Middle East are both factors that could lead to problems in the future. In addition, Hizballah supports an array of local actors in Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinian territories that are or could be opposed to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

My testimony today will detail how and why Hizballah has transformed in recent years with particular attention to the Syrian civil war. It then describes Iranian support for the group in general and in the aftermath of the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement. My statement then examines Hizballah's declining regional image and assesses the threat to Israel and the United States. My statement concludes by offering several implications for U.S. policy.

Hizballah in Transition

Since the group was founded in the early 1980s, the Lebanese Hizballah has survived, and often triumphed over, numerous challenges to its authority and very existence. Israel has assassinated several of Hizballah's leaders and fought wars of varying intensity against the group since its founding. Hizballah has also faced down numerous challenges in Lebanon, emerging as the strongest political and military organization in the country – including the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Lebanese army currently is not strong enough to crack down on the group, and should it do so, it would further split this already-divided country.

Hizballah has moved away from a number of its historic objectives. Some of this change is due to a maturing of the group and a diminishment of its ideological fervor, but the group's victories have also altered it. With its devastating 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks, it succeeded in expelling U.S. troops from Lebanon. Hizballah forces fought Israeli troops in Lebanon and, in 2000, expelled them from the country. Hizballah's original fervor to create an Iranian-style theocracy in Lebanon has dimmed, and it has accepted the reality that it will not bring an Islamic revolution to Lebanon. However, the organization remains bitterly anti-Israel and anti-American.

Hizballah is a terrorist group, but terrorism is only a small part of what the organization does. It is a political party, a social welfare agency, a quasi-state military, and even a part of the Lebanese government. Conceptualizing it only as a terrorist group misses most of its functions and obscures the reason it is so popular among many Lebanese Shi'ites. Unlike many terrorist groups, Hizballah cares about the welfare of its constituents and has deep ties to the Lebanese Shi'ite community. Its hospitals, schools, and social welfare organizations serve Lebanese Shi'ites and at times other communities. However, Hizballah's various functions are interrelated: Hizballah's social welfare organizations feed recruits to its military, and it uses its political power in Lebanon to shield itself from international pressure to disarm. Indeed, Hizballah and its allies' political position gives it veto power over government policy: a power they have used to remove a Prime Minister whom they did not believe was protecting the group's interests. The group's political and military leadership is unified and should be considered part of one cohesive organization: European attempts to ban Hizballah's "military" wing but not its "political" wing misconstrue the nature of the group.

The organization's post-2011 involvement in the Syria civil war has been transformative. Historically the organization presented itself as an Islamist (not Shi'ite) movement dedicated to fighting the West in general and Israel in particular. This image always fell short of reality, but many Lebanese and Arabs in general admired the group for its anti-Israel efforts and services to non-Shi'ites in Lebanon. It seemed to live up to its rhetoric of transcending sectarianism. 

Hizballah joined the fray in Syria because the Assad regime has long been a key supporter for its operations in Lebanon and against Israel, as well as a useful transit route for weapons. Even more important, Hizballah's closest ally, Iran was calling in all its favors and saw the potential fall of its ally in Damascus as a calamity. By taking sides in a brutal sectarian war, Hizballah has deepened its Shi'ite identity at the cost of its broader Islamist one and become the sectarian actor it always claimed to transcend.

The organization's position in Lebanon has changed as well. Even before the Syrian civil war, Hizballah angered many Lebanese when it stayed close to Syria after the United States, France, and other powers coerced Syrian forces into leaving Lebanon in 2005. Its firm support for Syria angered many Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims opposed to Damascus and in favor of a more independent Lebanon: the pro- and anti-Syrian position became the largest political fault line in Lebanon. Relations with other groups in Lebanon worsened further when, in 2008, Hizballah seized parts of West Beirut after the government tried to wrest control of the group's telecommunication infrastructure. The revelations from the United Nations investigation that Hizballah was probably behind the 2005 assassination of the anti-Syrian Prime Minister Rafik Hariri further worsened relations.[1]

The Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011 took this tension to a new level.[2]  Hizballah initially hid its involvement in the war, fearing the further rupturing of ties to anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon. However, the casualty toll became impossible to hide, and in May 2013 its leaders openly embraced its role. Hizballah forces have been involved in several important battles against opposition forces, and they have proven a vital ally for the Syrian regime: their skill and discipline are often far greater than those of Syrian military forces. Hizballah regularly maintains a presence of perhaps 5,000 fighters in Syria, rotating units in and out to maintain overall readiness. Because of the large number of forces it has deployed in Syria, Hizballah has expanded the overall size of its military wing: one analysis puts their number at roughly 20,000 trained fighters, with 5,000 having had advanced training in Iran.[3]

Although Hizballah was cautious about entering the fray, many Lebanese Shi'ites now see it as a defender of their community. They look at the atrocities the Islamic State perpetrates against Shi'ites and other minorities in Syria and Iraq and believe that a strong Hizballah is necessary to protect their community. Occasional anti-Shi'ite violence in Lebanon, rather than intimidate Hizballah, increases support for the group among its core supporters. On the other hand, many Lebanese Sunnis, seeing the Assad regime slaughter their co-religionists on a mass scale next door, now reject a group they once admired for its anti-Israel stance, provision of social services, and relative (by Lebanese standards) lack of corruption. Lebanese Christians and some members of the Sunni middle class are somewhere in the middle, abhorring the Islamic State but still skeptical of Hizballah.

Extreme voices within the Lebanese Sunni community, including jihadists tied to the Islamic State or to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, see Hizballah as a leading or even top foe and have conducted terrorist attacks in Lebanon against the group and its supporters. In 2014, groups probably linked to Jabhat al-Nusra have carried out attacks on Iranian facilities in Lebanon, and in November 2015, Islamic State supporters carried out two suicide bombings in a Hizballah neighborhood in Beirut, killing over 40 people – the worst single bombing Lebanon has suffered since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991. Three Lebanese-Americans died in the attack.[4]

Continued Iranian Support

Iranian support has long been vital to Hizballah's survival and success.[5]  Indeed, Hizballah entered Syria despite the risks to its reputation and personnel in part to assist its Iranian patron. Hizballah looks to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for ideological and strategic direction, and other Iranian officials, including those from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, regularly offer guidance to the group. Beyond strategic direction, Iran has provided Hizballah with virtually every form of assistance, ranging from arms – including Hizballah's massive rocket and missile arsenal – and money to training and organizational advice. Due to Iranian financing and direct transfers from Iran and Syria, Hizballah's arsenal includes unmanned aerial vehicles, Scud missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, man-portable air defense systems, anti-tank guided missiles, and other advanced equipment.[6]  Financial support is usually said to range between $60 million and $200 million a year, though what counts as support is often not defined and this figure varies depending on the contingencies Hizballah faces. Hizballah has used this money to pay its troops and develop a high-quality social service network. Thousands of Hizballah fighters have also trained in Iran itself. In addition, the foreign networks of Hizballah and those of Iranian intelligence are interwoven, with joint operations being common.[7]

Hizballah leaders have long portrayed themselves as foot soldiers in an Iranian army. Although the group has its own interests that are not linked to Iran's foreign policy – and Iran often respects these differences – the commitment to Tehran's interests is deep and genuine. Tehran, for its part, has a strong and deep commitment to Hizballah and its success in Lebanon. Iran sees the Lebanese group as one of its rare victories in spreading its revolution. In addition, the group offers Iran a way to strike Israel directly. Hizballah also serves as Iran's proxy and ally in the region in general, augmenting its power in Syria and of course Lebanon. The tight coordination of Hizballah and Iranian forces in the Syria fighting has made the already close relationship even closer.

This close relationship is not likely to change with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the United States and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program. It is possible that Iran may even step up support for Hizballah, taking advantage of its improved economic position after sanctions relief. With the decline in Iran's relationship with Hamas and the collapse of the Syrian state, Hizballah is one of the few bright spots for Iran in the Arab world, and Tehran wants to keep the group strong. At the same time, Iran is diplomatically overstretched, deploying considerable forces within Syria to prop up Assad, maintaining a large clandestine presence in Iraq, and even establishing limited ties to the Houthis in Yemen. At home, the collapse of oil prices – and decades of economic mismanagement– has coupled with an increase in popular expectations of economic prosperity among ordinary Iranians. So although sanctions relief puts more money into Iran's coffers, Iran has many demands on these scarce funds, and in my judgment the level of support for Hizballah is not likely to change significantly barring a significant change in the regional situation. 

Changing Regional Perceptions of Hizballah

Perhaps the biggest negative consequence for Hizballah in the Syrian civil war is the collapse of its regional reputation and associated prestige in the Arab and broader Muslim world. Hizballah is the only Arab military to defeat Israel by force of arms, which it did when its war of attrition pushed Israel out of Lebanon in 2000. After its 2006 war with Israel, when Hizballah launched perhaps 4,000 rockets and missiles at Israel and fought the Israeli Defense Forces to a draw, opinion polls showed Hizballah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as the most popular man in the Arab world. The sectarian nature of the Syrian civil war, however, puts Hizballah firmly on the side of an unpopular minority in the Arab world. Today Nasrallah and Hizballah are regularly vilified, with conservative Sunnis labeling the group the "party of Satan," a twist on the group's name "the party of God." 

The March 2016 designation of Hizballah as a terrorist group by the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council is a reflection of this shift in attitude. Ironically, Hizballah's use of terrorism as a tactic was much more pronounced in the 1980s, when its suicide bombing of U.S. and French peacekeepers and hostage taking of Westerners in Lebanon was at its peak. Hizballah at the time also worked with Iran to strike targets in the Gulf states because of those regimes' support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Since then, the organization has consistently been involved in terrorism, often in conjunction with Iran. The League's designation is thus not a reflection of a sudden change in the organization's methods – if anything, the group uses less terrorism if we define the term narrowly to exclude attacks outside war zones and only against civilian targets – but rather a belated attempt by U.S. allies in the Gulf and elsewhere to delegitimize the group and its Iranian backer.

The Threat to Israel

Hizballah remains committed to Israel's destruction, but this goal is less of a priority than in past years. From its inception, Hizballah defined itself as the tip of the spear against Israel, and its forces became progressively more skilled and able to conduct an array of sophisticated military operations against the Jewish state. Its casualty ratio against Israel steadily improved, and Israeli military officers regularly describe the group as formidable. In the 2006 war with Israel, Hizballah killed more than 160 Israelis, a huge figure for the small and casualty-sensitive Jewish state. Hizballah training camps use models of Israeli streets, and the organization's rocket arsenal and tunnel complexes in Lebanon are designed with Israel specifically in mind. All of Israel is in range of Hizballah's long-range rockets, though Israel's missile defense system offers Israelis some comfort should conflict resume.

Hizballah, often in cooperation with Iran, has conducted an array of terrorist attacks against Israel around the world, including attacks in 1992 and 1994 in Argentina that together killed over 100 people. Hizballah also tried to assassinate Israelis traveling outside their country in Europe and Asia. In 2012, Hizballah was linked to a bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver. Hizballah and Iran often see these attacks as revenge for what they consider to be Israeli aggression, such as the killing of Hizballah leaders or attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists.

In addition to these direct attacks, Hizballah has acted as a quasi-state sponsor of terrorism. Hizballah remains vehement in its calls for Israel's destruction and support for the Palestinian cause. It has supported an array of Palestinian militant groups with training and arms, encouraging them to use violence against Israel. However, several Palestinian groups, notably Hamas, oppose Hizballah's position in Syria and have distanced themselves from the group and its Iranian patron. Shared interests, and the relatively few allies that Hamas and Hizballah possess, however, are likely to ensure that relations are maintained and perhaps even improved should the sectarian fervor in the region die down.

Since 2006 – and in reality well before that – Hizballah has been deterred from a massive attack on Israel. Hizballah fears a fierce Israeli response that would destroy its military infrastructure and devastate the lives and livelihoods of its Lebanese constituents. Because of this fear, Hizballah has looked for ways to continue the conflict with Israel on the margins, keeping the struggle alive but trying to limit the violence to prevent tough Israeli retaliation. Israel, for its part, has been content with a shadow war, where at times it kills a Hizballah commander or destroys a weapons shipment but avoids more aggressive, potentially escalatory actions.[8]

Since 2006, the border has been surprisingly quiet, suggesting the strength of Israel's current deterrence. In addition, the presence of UN peacekeepers deployed after the 2006 war makes it difficult for Hizballah to have the large-scale presence it had in the border area before the war, though it still has cadre there who are not in uniform. Hizballah has built bunkers, underground rocket platforms, and other sites farther away from the border, near the Litani River. Israel has also shot Hizballah fighters in Syria when they attempted to plant a bomb near a border fence along the Golan Heights.[9]

Hizballah's involvement in the Syrian civil war has made it even more cautious about taking on Israel. Hizballah's large-scale deployments in Syria, and the associated casualties – close to 1,000 – are draining the organization.[10]  Hizballah has had to expand recruitment and accept younger fighters. Israeli security officials are rightly concerned that Hizballah fighters have gained valuable combat experience. However, they are primarily doing counterinsurgency operations and would face difficultly adjusting to the high-intensity and overwhelming firepower the Israeli military would bring to any battle. Perhaps most importantly, the organization's Lebanese constituents have little appetite for more conflict. 

This caution could change for several reasons. Setbacks in Lebanon or elsewhere would give the group an incentive to restore its past reputation, and fighting Israel is one potentially popular way of doing so. Israel also regularly attacks Hizballah targets in Syria and Lebanon, primarily to stop the transfer of advanced weapons from the Syrian arsenal. These strikes have at times killed senior Hizballah leaders and even a senior Iranian official. Hizballah has not escalated after such attacks, but this restraint is by no means guaranteed. Finally, should the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal collapse and the United States attack the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, Hizballah might attack Israel as part of the Iranian response. Similarly, if U.S.-Iran tension increases for other reasons, we should expect Hizballah to stand by its Iranian ally, and one way of doing so might be to try to drag Israel into a conflict and thus attempt to delegitimize any U.S. response.

Hizballah's has been cautious about a direct confrontation with the United States since the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon, but it has remained hostile and supportive of anti-U.S. forces in the Middle East. It has assisted Iranian anti-U.S. operations, notably the 1996 Khobar Towers attack that killed 19 U.S. servicemen.[11]  When U.S. forces were fighting against Shi'ite militias in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, Hizballah often aided these militias with training and other forms of support. It has also worked with Iran to case U.S. targets around the world and otherwise maintains considerable potential to conduct terrorist attacks should its calculations change. This might occur should there be a U.S.-Iran military confrontation or if the United States decides to try to remove the Assad regime.

Implications for the United States

In Lebanon and Syria, the United States faces a dilemma. Washington correctly does not want Hizballah's regional or national influence to grow. However, Hizballah is one of the most formidable foes of the Islamic State at a time when the United States is both trying to fight the group in Syria and stop the violence from spreading to Lebanon. Hizballah is also reportedly assisting various Shi'ite forces in Iraq against the Islamic State.

A standard recommendation – one I have endorsed in the past and still favor to some degree – is to build up the Lebanese Armed Forces and otherwise strengthen the Lebanese state. Helping the Lebanese state become militarily stronger and better able to provide services would undermine some support for Hizballah and enable the government to resist Hizballah's threats of force that ensure the group's independence. For the most part U.S. efforts to do so have failed, in part due to general problems with U.S. training programs but especially because Lebanese leaders do not want to exacerbate tensions within Lebanon through open hostility toward Hizballah. Part of this is due to fear, but part is also a concern that Lebanon's precarious stability could collapse should Lebanese elites further divide the country as waves of unrest emanate from Syria.

The Saudi decision to pull $4 billion in support from Lebanon (most of which was to go to its armed forces), freeze funding of suspected Hizballah bank accounts in the Kingdom, and discourage Saudis from using Lebanon as a tourist destination further consolidates Hizballah's position. Riyadh, facing significant budget shortfalls due to the decline in the price of oil, is waging an expensive effort of its own in Yemen. Saudi Arabia's deficit in 2015 was almost $100 billion, and the Yemeni war is costing it at least $1 billion per month (the true figure is probably much more).[12]  Hizballah has roundly criticized the Saudi war in Yemen as well as Riyadh's execution of the dissident Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The refusal of the Lebanese government to openly side with Saudi Arabia against Iran in Syria and Yemen or to condemn the January 2016 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran – in large part because Lebanese leaders did not want to anger Hizballah – has led Riyadh to question whether its money was buying friendship. Saudi support had enabled anti-Hizballah figures to maintain some degree of power and patronage with the military and Lebanese society in general, and its diminishment offers Hizballah a relative advantage. The United States should encourage Riyadh to resume its support for non-Hizballah individuals and institutions in Lebanon.

The million plus Syrian refugees in Lebanon are a potential destabilizing force that could lead to more violence in the fragile country. The refugees might take part in the fighting in Syria, with Lebanon serving as a base and a haven. It is also possible that the refugees might incite violence in Lebanon, fostering a civil war, as the Palestinians did before them. To prevent this, more U.S. and international aid for refugees in Lebanon is vital. The United States should also assist Lebanon in securing its borders and otherwise trying to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over into the country.

Finally, the United States should work with Israel to ensure its deterrence of Hizballah and that its limited uses of force in Syria and elsewhere do not escalate into a broader confrontation. Should the U.S. step up its role in Syria and Iraq, and thus interact indirectly with Hizballah-linked forces, tight coordination with Israel becomes especially important.

[1] Ronen Bergman, "The Hezbollah Connection," New York Times Magazine, February 10, 2015,
[2] This section draws on my work with Bilal Saab. See Daniel Byman and Bilal Saab, "Hizballah in a Time of Transition," Center for Middle East Policy and Brookings (November 2014,)
[3] "Hizbullah," Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism,, May 8, 2015, p. 15.
[4] "3 Dearborn Victims of Lebanon Terror Attack Mourned," November 14, 2015,
[5] For my thoughts on this issue, see Daniel Byman, Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
[6] See "Hizbullah," Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism.
[7] For an excellent discussion, see Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Iran's Party of God (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015).
[8] See Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
[9] "Hizbullah," Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism, pp. 7 and 41.
[10] Ali Alfoneh, "Hezbollah Fatalities in the Syrian War," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 22, 2016,
[11] Adam Goldman, "Hezbollah Operative Indicted in United States for Attack on Khobar Towers," Washington Post, August 26, 2015,
[12] Mohamad Bazzi, "Why the Oil Collapse Is Forcing Saudi Arabia to Cut Back on Its Checkbook Diplomacy," Reuters, March 16, 2016,