By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

It’s not clear if we can blame it on incompetence at the U.S. State Department, a swing and a miss, some bizarre appeasing of who knows what group by whom, or simply an international relations effort gone bad. But the recent U.S. granting of tens of millions of dollars — on top of hundreds of millions — of military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) may be a combination of all.

Of course, the Lebanese government (including the LAF) is an ally of the United States, technically. At least it was (or should have been) until May 2008 — that was when the LAF refused to defend the country against Hezbollah after the Shiite terrorist group and its allies launched a series of armed attacks against the Lebanese government and citizenry.

The May attacks were launched in retaliation for the government’s firing of the Beirut airport security chief (connected to Hezbollah) and the government’s attempt to shut down Hezbollah’s extensive private telecommunications network linking Hezbollah command posts in Beirut and in south Lebanon with Teheran and Damascus.

In the end, the Lebanese government — under the direction of the Arab League and, yes, with the blessing of the U.S. and Europe — chose a pro- Hezbollah president (Gen. Michel Sleiman, the former Army chief who refused to fight Hezbollah in May) and rewarded Hezbollah for its bloody terror campaign by rescinding the previous orders against Hezbollah and granting Hezbollah more cabinet seats and government veto power. As if that wasn’t enough, Hezbollah — which, according to UN Security Council mandate, should have been disarmed years ago — has now been made a permanent wing of the legitimate Lebanese Army.

“It’s actually the other way around,” former CIA operations officer Clare M. Lopez tells us. “The army now appears to be part of Hezbollah. … It is clear that Hezbollah — and by extension — Iran, owns Lebanon. This means that a radical, revolutionary, and expansionist Shiite jihad force occupies a foothold on the southeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Nevertheless, on Oct. 6, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long and Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr “initiated the inaugural U.S.-Lebanon Joint Military Commission (JMC) in Beirut,” according to a statement issued by the State Department. “Participants in this year’s JMC discussed current and future military assistance to Lebanon, including the need for a broad range of military capabilities for counterterrorism [keep in mind, Hezbollah is a State Department-designated terrorist organization]. … Lebanon and the United States signed three military contracts totaling $63 million of U.S. grants to the LAF for secure communications, ammunition, and infantry weapons.”

Great. So despite the fact that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization — which Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff says “makes Al Qaeda look like a minor league team” — the American taxpayer is granting $63 million and much more to an army that refuses to fight Iranian-Syrian-supported Hezbollah on its own turf, considers Hezbollah to be a legitimate “resistance” force, and has allowed the terrorist group to worm its way into the official Lebanese Defense apparatus as a permanent fixture.

On Oct. 6, the same day State issued its release, the AP reported: “The United States is a backer of Lebanon’s army and has pledged more help since President Michel Suleiman’s [Sleiman’s] September meeting with President Bush. At the time, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was quoted as saying the Lebanese army was given nearly $400 million in military assistance. A further $60 million worth of aid, including helicopters, ammunition and Humvees, is awaiting Congress’ approval.”

That does not include the $63 million.

The following day, Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future of Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told me: “The unreal equation here is that the U.S. grants $460 million to a Hezbollah-dominated government, thinking this half-billion dollars is going to be part of an effort against terrorism. But Hezbollah which has the upper hand over the political control of the Lebanese Army and has its hands and eyes inside the Lebanese government will be — at the end of the day — the final recipient of American military aid, as strange as it may seem.”

John Hajjar, U.S. director for Lebanon’s pro-democracy World Council for the Cedars Revolution, says the Lebanese Diaspora and friends of Lebanon in the U.S. have been tirelessly appealing for “military, diplomatic, and political assistance” but only “while Hezbollah was outside the government, while there was a parliamentary majority able to back the government, and while a huge popular majority in Lebanon was taking to the streets to tell the world that Lebanon wanted implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 [calling for the disbanding and disarming of all militias in Lebanon]. … It was then that military assistance was needed to equip an army tasked with the disarming of the militias, including Hezbollah and fighting the Jihadi Salafists, some of whom were dispatched ironically from Syria.”

That window of opportunity for such assistance, according to Hajjar, has been closed with the granting of concessions to — and newfound political-strategic power of — Hezbollah.

According to Lopez, “The U.S. government’s decision to grant the Lebanese Army millions of dollars worth of military assistance, in full knowledge that those weapons will never be used to confront Hezbollah, and more than likely will only add to their arsenal, is foolish in the extreme, in my opinion.”

She adds that after the events of May and July — when the so-called national unity government was formed granting Hezbollah veto power — “there can simply be no doubt in any sane person’s mind about who controls Lebanon: it is not the [Prime Minister] Fuad Siniora government! [ Hezbollah Secretary General] Hassan Nasrallah controls Lebanon.”

Mr. Smith is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, and in Iraq and Lebanon.

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