Saturday, October 20, 2007
By The Daily Star
A senior Pentagon official kicked up a storm of suspicion in Lebanon when he told LBC television that the US military wants to build a "strategic partnership" with Lebanon's army. Eric Edelman, the US undersecretary of defense for policy, rightly pointed out that a stronger Lebanese Army would reduce the need for resistance groups to keep weapons to defend themselves. But citizens of Lebanon are understandably wary of US offers of military assistance, especially since so much of it is coming at the 11th hour, long after Lebanese soldiers' blood has been spilled by both Israelis in the South and Islamist militants in the North.
A better way - and indeed the most cost-effective way - that the Americans could support Lebanon would be to for them to pressure their Israeli allies into doing the one thing that they have for decades refused to do: respect international law. That means, among other things, withdrawing from Lebanese territories that they have illegally occupied and halting their near-daily illicit incursions into Lebanese territories. After suffering decades of abuse from their southern neighbor, most Lebanese recognize that Israel probably will not take these steps on its own. In fact, according to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel recently refused a recommendation by the United Nations to begin talks with Lebanon over the occupied Shebaa Farms, an issue that one senior Israeli official said "is off the record for good."
The meager $270 million in assistance that Lebanon has received from the US - in comparison to the more than $3 billion annually given to Israel - is not likely to be enough aid to build an effective military that can ward off Israeli aggression. Indeed, the best and only hope that the Lebanese have is that US officials might one day use the ample leverage that these hefty annual aid packages provide to pressure Israel into respecting international law. Such a gesture would buy a great deal more stability and security than any military partnership - without costing US taxpayers a single penny.