Beirut, Lebanon, once the Paris of the Middle East is the apocalyptic poster child for sectarian civil war. Lebanon is the battleground where the proxies for regional and international powers – the United States, the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Liberation Army, Hezbollah and others – tear the country to pieces on what seems a regular schedule. The country is in a forever unsettled state of affairs, its future allegiance always up for grabs. Into this cauldron of instability, the United States has just dumped $50 million dollars of military equipment. Are you fucking crazy?
The present dicey situation goes back to the 1975 Lebanese civil war, a war between a Christian coalition and the PLO, Druze and Muslim militia alliance. Syria intervened with the Syrian Arab Deterrent Force in 1976. Followed by years of Israeli raids and incursions. By 1982 a multinational military expedition force made up of American, British, French and Italian units were in place occupying Lebanon. The civil war ground on until 1989 when a Saudi-Algerian-Moroccan led peace initiative resulted in the Taif Agreement which provided for a cease fire and withdrawal of foreign forces, still not fully implemented to this day.
But peace was not to be. Civilian coalition governments formed and collapsed; military actions, assassinations and suicide bombings continued. Israel, the PLO and Hezbollah made Lebanon a contested war zone. “A report leaked by the Al-Akhbar newspaper in November 2010 stated that Hezbollah ha[d] drafted plans for a takeover of the country…” By 2013 the Syrian civil war had spilled across the border with 700,000 refugees in camps within Lebanon’s national borders. The surge of refugees continues unabated suggesting that “the country’s sectarian based political system is being undermined” and is at risk.
Whichever way you look Beirut, Lebanon is just a stone’s throw from the Middle East’s most volatile flashpoints. From geopolitical point of view Beirut is only 114 kilometers [70 miles] away from Syria’s capital Damascus, home of embattled President Bashar al-Assad who is waging a human rights violations war against his own people. Aleppo the city that he has laid siege to for so many months and that is making the nightly news daily is only 350 kilometers [217 miles] away.
As the crow flies Nablus and the Palestinian West Bank are 186 kilometers [116 miles] away and Gaza by road is a mere 283 kilometers [285 miles]; Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel are much closer. Amman, Jordan is 220 kilometers [137 miles]. ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s temporal power starts at Ar Rutba on the Iraqi border 363 kilometers [226 miles] away. To make my point, I drove from New York to Washington DC yesterday in less than 4 hours, a distance of 340 kilometers [211 miles].
Lest we forget, the United States military left some $25 billion and counting worth of tanks, armored vehicles, Humvees, howitzers, heavy and light machine guns, ammunition and artillery shells, other munitions and equipment in Iraq. This was bequeathed to the Iraqi armed forces to stabilize the country and protect it from foes, foreign and domestic. Much of it found its way out of country to supply insurgents and rebel forces the Kurds, Somalis, the Boko Haram rabble or Yemenis of both stripes. A lot remained in-country and at risk.
ISIS, the Islamic Caliphate is the Middle East’s bête noir du jour. Our version of Satan incarnate. Amnesty International in a damning report finds that the majority of ISIS’ arsenal was obtained from the Iraqi military. In just one instance ISIS captured more than 100 M-1A1 Abrams heavy tanks and armed personnel carriers when the Iraqi Security Forces “fled the provincial capital of Ramadi [just] 60 miles west of Baghdad and abandoned their equipment”.
When ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014 2,300 US armored Humvees were grabbed and added to its arsenal. As each garrison, each depot, each city fell into ISIS hands more and more weapons were seized made possible by “decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq and multiple failures by the U.S.-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stocks securely, as well as endemic corruption in Iraq itself.”
A recent audit of the United States supplied 465,000 light weapons [M-16s assault rifles, M-249 and M-240 light and all- purpose machine guns] to the Afghan security forces have gone missing or are unaccounted for and are now weapons arming the Taliban. “Do not arm your enemy” is the Afghan lesson not learned and not followed in Iraq.
Now back to the Lebanon of today. The delivery of weapons on August 9, 2016 was cause for celebration when the $50 million in arms – “an entire ship full of military equipment.” – reached Beirut’s port. The shipment included 50 armed Humvees, 40 M198 155 mm power supply Howitzers and more than 25 million rounds of artillery weighing in at 1,000 tons.
The United States Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth H. Richard boasted that “[t] “This year alone, we provided over $221 million in equipment and training to the Lebanese security forces … [and] … I’d also like to point out that Lebanon is the 5th largest recipient of United States foreign military financing in the world” noting that “Washington has provided more than $1 billion in military assistance to Lebanon since 2006”, that being $225 for every Lebanese man, woman and child.
Lebanon is at the very epicenter of the Middle East “troubles”. The transfer of arms and munitions to unstable countries has recently become subject to the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty which the United States signed in September, 2013 but has not as of yet ratified. The Treaty implements United Nations Resolution 61/89 which calls for “international standards on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms [as] a contributory factor to conflict, the displacement of people, crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable development…”
The Treaty mandates that member states “monitor arms exports and ensure that weapons don’t cross existing arms embargoes or end up being used for human-rights abuses, including terrorism. Member states, with the assistance of the U.N., will put into place enforceable, standardized arms import and export regulations [much like those that already exist in the U.S.] and be expected to track the destination of exports to ensure they don’t end up in the wrong hands. Ideally, that means limiting the inflow of deadly weapons into places like Syria.” [emphasis supplied]
In retrospect the U.S. export regulations “that already exist” didn’t do much for the Iraq to ISIS arms transfer disaster, did they? They certainly did not ensure that they didn’t “end up in the wrong hands”, did they? They didn’t limit the “inflow of deadly weapons into places like Syria”, did they? The same questions can be asked of Afghanistan and most recently Yemen. If so, why the fuck are we sending arms to Lebanon?
* “WTF” – Is an acronym for “What the Fuck”, American vernacular, an obscene expression of shock, consternation and concerned confusion upon receipt of disturbing news
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com