Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi announced yesterday that Tehran will provide the Lebanese Army with military tools, equipment, and weapons, should Beirut request such services. Calling Lebanon “a friend of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Vahidi said, “If they raise a demand in this regard, we are completely ready to help the Lebanese Army.”
Iran’s announcement comes one day after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah urged the Lebanese Cabinet to ask Iran for military equipment, stressing that the terrorist group will help secure a deal by “work[ing] hard through his friendship with Iran.” According to the Iranian Fars News Agency, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman then officially asked Iran to help modernize the Lebanese Army with weapons, although no other news source has confirmed that Suleiman made such a statement.
This development comes on the heals of the U.S. Congress’ decision to block its $100 million annual military aid to Lebanon shortly after a deadly border clash between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers earlier this month. The aid was blocked over concerns that it would be used against Israel and that Hezbollah is gaining influence over the Lebanese army. In response, Lebanon opened an account at the central bank to receive donations to help it purchase weapons for the military.
The U.S. government, which has provided close to $1 billion to the Lebanese army since 2006, has tried to strike a balance over the years between supporting the army – mainly through providing low-tech logistical equipment and training – and supporting Israel’s security needs. But, as often happens in the Middle East, the United States is finding itself wedged between a rock and a hard place: Either refrain from aiding the Lebanese army and chance a growing Iranian influence over Beirut, or aid Lebanon and take the chance that U.S. money will be used against Israel.
So, as is also often the case, the U.S. will be forced to choose the lesser of two evils: supporting the Lebanese army. Because although there’s a chance that U.S. aid will be used against Israel, strengthening Lebanon’s military with American support will more likely keep Hezbollah at bay and prevent a conflict with Israel, than will withholding support and allowing Lebanon’s army to weaken. And allowing Iran to take control of Lebanon is a chance the U.S., and Israel, should not be willing to take.