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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Congressional Members Introduce Bill Leveraging Lebanon to Crack Down on Hezbollah

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Members of both Houses of Congress introduced a bill on Tuesday that would put pressure on the Lebanese military to curb Hezbollah’s presence in the Middle East.

According to a press release from Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tex.) office, Cruz, along with Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) brought forth the Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act of 2019. Under the bill, the Lebanese government has to prove that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are cracking down on Hezbollah, or else 20 percent of United States military assistance will be withheld from the Lebanese government.

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Cruz said in a statement that the United Nations passed a resolution in 2018 requiring the LAF to disarm Hezbollah, and that the proposed bill is an enforcement mechanism of that resolution.

“It’s time to take the next step and reassess the assistance we provide if Iran continues to exert influence on the LAF directly or through Hezbollah,” Cruz said.

Zeldin similarly said in a statement that “Hezbollah has overwhelming political and military influence in Lebanon that presents an imminent geostrategic threat to Israel.” He added that the United States provides more than $1.7 billion to “the LAF as it reportedly takes resources from this flagrant terrorist organization and Iranian puppet. The United States must fight against Iranian influence and stand with our nation’s greatest ally – Israel.”

Luria also said in a statement, “We should continue to exert pressure on governments that partner with terrorist groups and threaten our ally Israel. Having visited the border of Israel and Lebanon, I recognize the gravity of this situation and I urge Congress to swiftly pass our bill to curb Hezbollah’s presence and impact.”

Retired Lt. Gens. John Bednarek and Richard Natonski argued in a February RealClearDefense Op-ed that Hezbollah has increased its influence over the LAF since the terror group took control of the Lebanese parliament in 2018; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has praised the LAF and Lebanese President Michael Aoun praised Hezbollah.

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“Perhaps the best example of this relationship came in recent months, amid Israel’s discovery of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels dug in violation of Resolution 1701. Despite being tasked with enforcing this resolution, LAF soldiers aimed their weapons at Israeli units neutralizing the tunnels – not at Hezbollah,” Bednarek and Natonski argued. “The failure of the LAF and U.N. peacekeepers to prevent Hezbollah’s rearmament highlights the challenges Israel will face in the next war on its northern border. Dangerous as the tunnels would be, the main threat is Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal which has advanced by an order of magnitude since the last war – all under the radar of the U.N. and LAF.”

Israel destroyed six of these tunnels; the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon concluded in April that at least three of the tunnels violated the 2006 ceasefire agreement between Hezbollah and Israel.

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