Now that Congress has temporarily frozen aid to the Lebanese Armed forces (LAF) after the cross-border incident from a few weeks ago, scholars are warning against the move. Paul Salem writes:
But the episode should not be used to end support. Quite the opposite, in fact. Despite the loss of life, it’s generally a positive sign that the Lebanese army is stepping up its defense of the border. The Lebanese army has not attempted to defend the border for the past four decades. Indeed, Hezbollah’s entire raison d’être is that the national army does not protect the border. If the military grows in strength and improves its ability to stabilize the border, Hezbollah will increasingly lose its argument for staying armed. Using the border clash as a reason to cut off aid would be a typical case of shooting oneself in the foot.
This would be similar to when Israel proceeded to undermine the Palestinian Authority because there were certain things about the PA that it didn’t like. Weakening the PA strengthened Hamas. In this case, Congress would be empowering Hezbollah.
He’s right. No less a WINEP “Likudnik” than David Schenker (yes, I’m looking at you, Michael Moran) has agreed that we should proceed cautiously. But one thing to look for in the coming weeks and months is how the LAF reacts to the upcoming findings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon:
In the coming months, the Obama administration will no doubt be looking for further signs of increased coordination between the LAF and Hizballah. A key test may come if, as widely expected, the international tribunal investigating the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri issues indictments against prominent Hizballah activists. The willingness of the LAF — and, more generally, the central government — to act on these indictments, arrest the wanted men, and transfer them to the custody of the tribunal will be a clear sign of whether these state institutions have morphed into Hizballah’s appendages or remain truly independent.
In other words, we should presume innocence before concluding guilt, especially in such a volatile time period.