The resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister over the weekend is heightening congressional scrutiny of Hezbollah’s wide-ranging influence in the country, with a top lawmaker calling on the Trump administration to reassess military assistance.
Speaking from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, then-prime minister Saad Hariri tore into Hezbollah and its top backer, Iran, condemning their destructive role inside and outside Lebanon, and expressing fear about an assassination plot against him. (Hariri’s father, Rafik, was assassinated in 2005 and several members of Hezbollah were indicted by a special tribunal.) Sources on and off Capitol Hill told THE WEEKLY STANDARD the remarks represent an “unmasking” of Lebanon as controlled largely by Iran and its Hezbollah proxy.
Texas senator Ted Cruz attributed Hariri’s resignation to Iran’s “increasingly pervasive influence in Lebanon” through Hezbollah, and called for a re-examination of U.S. military assistance to the country.
“It is time for the United States to reassess the military assistance we provide to Lebanon, including to the Lebanese Armed Forces, and conduct a formal review of our strategy there,” he said in a statement. Lawmakers have previously questioned whether U.S. equipment provided to the Lebanese army has fallen into Hezbollah’s hands.
“[Hariri] is a good, pro-democratic, outstanding individual who basically was forced out of office,” Arizona senator John McCain said in floor remarks Tuesday. “The web of Iranian proxies and allies is spreading from the Levant to the Arabian Peninsula, threatening stability, freedom of navigation, and the territory of our partners and allies.”
The House of Representatives passed a spate of sanctions targeting Iran and Hezbollah in recent weeks, including a strengthened version of the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA). The bill, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce and the panel’s top Democrat, Eliot Engel, seeks to sever the militia’s access to cash and stymie its recruiting efforts.
“Everything Hariri said just confirms what I’ve believed for many years,” said Engel. “The terrible thing about Lebanon is that the government doesn’t really run the country. You’ve got a terrorist organization running the country with Iran pulling the strings.”
Royce warned that Hezbollah could “increase its already strong grip on Lebanon.”
“We are watching Lebanon closely as we continue working to advance our House-passed bill imposing new sanctions on Iran’s terror proxy,” he said.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday described Hariri’s remarks as “a wake-up call to the international community to take action against the Iranian aggression” that aims to make Syria into a second Lebanon.
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that Hariri’s speech further challenges a U.S. policy aimed at supporting the Lebanese army while undermining Hezbollah.
“If the premise is strengthen the state, and the resigning prime minister just told you that the state is controlled by Hezbollah—what are we strengthening, exactly? Are we strengthening a Hezbollah state?” he said. “Conceptually, it forces a pause and a rethink of the premise of the policy.”
Badran said that Lebanon could see a political “vacuum” period after Hariri’s departure. But he stressed that irrespective of day-to-day political maneuvers, Hezbollah’s clout in Lebanon remains.
“In terms of the actual balance of power, the actual power on the ground, regardless of the politics, regardless of the Cabinets, regardless of the parliamentary majorities: it’s Hezbollah.”
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim with ties to Saudi Arabia, said Saturday that Iranian influence thwarted his hopes of uniting the Lebanese. The country is splintered between Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia and Shiites who support Hezbollah, backed by Iran.
“When I took office, I promised you that I would seek to unite the Lebanese, end political division and establish the principle of self-sufficiency, but I have been unable to do so,” Hariri said in resignation remarks. “Despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon.”
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard