Why are we funneling weapons to Hezbollah?

Bilal Hussein | AP Photo

Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, Aug. 16, 2017:

What if I told you we were sending military hardware to ISIS? Would you march on Washington with an outpouring of righteous indignation?

Well, we are now arming Hezbollah, which is worse than arming ISIS, given that the caliphate is on the decline and Hezbollah and Iran are gaining more power by the day. Oh, and by the way, the last time I checked, we have a Republican in the White House.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon announced the planned shipment of 32 M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles from America to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), at an “investment” of $100 million.

Meanwhile, our soldiers have been working with them and training them on how to use a number of other weapons systems that have been transferred to the Lebanese army over the past year. They include howitzers, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars, hellfire missiles, night vision devices, and thermal sights technology.

At this point, any thinking person should be asking that, given that Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, and is a client state of Iran, doesn’t this mean that we are essentially arming Hezbollah?

Everyone knows that the Lebanese government is completely at the mercy of Hezbollah and Iran. Given that Hezbollah is much stronger than the LAF, is comprised of many Shiites, and is subject to the direction and veto power of its Iranian masters, it defies logic to think that they could possibly maintain control over U.S. aid without Hezbollah confiscating it.

As Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes, “Hezbollah, of course, controls the Lebanese government and dictates the operations of its armed forces. Indeed, it was Hezbollah that laid out the battle plans for the current operation in northeastern Lebanon, including what role the LAF would play in it.” This is why Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that “the Lebanese army is a subsidiary unit of Hezbollah” and that Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, “is another Nasrallah operative.”

Yet, Trump embraced Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in a recent visit to the White House and praised him as a partner in the war against terrorists. It’s yet another example of where the nuances of alliances and policy are lost on the president, which prompts him to support action that repudiates his campaign promises and stated objectives on Iran.

We were told by apologists of the Saudi arms deal that a complete embrace of Saudi Arabia was needed to combat Iran. Yet, here we are helping their strongest proxy that is directly controlled by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) figures on the ground.

This is a symptom of a broader disease inherent in our Middle East strategy over the past decade, whereby we arm multiple sides of Islamic civil wars, and often, fight ourselves and our own weapons by proxy. Aside from the immorality of ensuring that arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah, such a move has two distinct policy outcomes: It further muddles our involvement in Syria, and strengthens Hezbollah’s desire to open a second front against Israel on its eastern border.

According to the State Department, there are approximately 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. They are fighting alongside the IRGC and the Assad regime against other Islamic insurgents including ISIS. The irony is that our own military is fighting ISIS as well.

Yet, at the same time, we are launching air strikes against Shiite militias allied with Hezbollah, but now we are also almost directly arming Hezbollah. Oh, and we happen to be assisting some of the very same Shiite militias in Iraq! The Hezbollah Brigades, along with fellow Shiite militias, such as the Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades, are benefiting from our support in Iraq, even though they are controlled by the Iranian Quds Force.

Is your head spinning yet? Rather than enable our enemies to fight with each other to the benefit of our security interests, we have them play ourselves against our own interests by supporting the worst elements of all sides by placing our weapons and special forces into the hands of our enemies. Two more soldiers died earlier this week in Iraq, very likely engaged in a mission that at least indirectly buttresses Iranian hegemony.

Welcome to the world of Islamic civil wars and our wrongheaded involvement on multiple and conflicting sides in each given theater, where there is no discernable strategic objective that places our interests first.

Instead, the sum of our actions is that we are directly aiding Iran in most theaters. Unlike Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, Iran is the one country in the Middle East that poses a direct threat to our interests. And if the Iranians are allowed to continue expanding their wealth and reach, they will succeed in threatening our homeland, just like North Korea.

More worrisome is that fact that Hezbollah, in its own right, poses a greater homeland security threat than the major Sunni terror groups, because it has a vast network inside our country and in Latin America. Several operatives have been arrested in recent months. Why in the world would we help them in the Middle East on numerous fronts, arm them … and then fight against them on other fronts?

Iranian missile factories in Lebanon

Photo: Tasnim News

Center for Security Policy, by Alex VanNess, July 11, 2017:

Reports show that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is building underground facilities for Hezbollah.  These facilities, which have been reported on as far back as March, are said to be 50 meters below ground to protect from potential Israeli airstrikes.

The factory located in northern Lebanon is said to be manufacturing Fateh 110 missile’s, a short-range surface-to-surface missile with a range of approximately 190 miles.  That range can threaten most of Israel.  The second factory is supposedly manufacturing small arms.

Center adjunct-fellow, Caroline Glick highlights Hezbollah’s growing belligerence her recent column:

Not only is Hezbollah building a missile industry. It is deploying its forces directly across the border with Israel – in material breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 from 2006, which set the terms of the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah at the end of the Second Lebanon War.

The missile facility is a marked upgrade in Hezbollah’s weapons manufacturing abilities.  Additionally, Hezbollah’s has also been battle hardened, having fought in Syria for the past several years.

Last month, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah raised the bar on his rhetoric, calling for fighters from different regions to join forces, saying the next war with Israel could “open the way for thousands, even hundreds of thousands of fighters from all over the Arab and Islamic world to participate – from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan,”

Intentional or not, this situation will only escalate.  Israel would do well to take decisive action to neutralize this growing threat.

Also see:

Hezbollah is Lebanon is Hezbollah

The Times of Israel, by Naftali Bennett, April 2, 2017:

In July 2006 mortars and rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israel’s cities and infrastructure. At the same time, Lebanese militants crossed the border and attacked Israeli soldiers – killing three and abducting the bodies of two others to the Lebanese town of Ayta a-Shab. More Israelis were killed as they chased the attackers into Lebanese territory. Despite this, Israel did not retaliate against Lebanon.

Following a request by the US, Israel distinguished between Sovereign Lebanon and Hezbollah. As a result, I – and thousands of other Israeli soldiers – found myself trying to stop an Iranian paramilitary organization using only tweezers. After weeks behind enemy lines, I can tell you: it is impossible to fight like that.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s recent comments on Egyptian television make it clear he sees no distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Hezbollah’s weapons “are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” he said, and noted: “They are a major part of Lebanon’s defense.”

Now that Lebanon has made it clear it is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon, it is time for Israel and the world to let the Lebanese public know: if a rocket or mortar is fired from Lebanon at Israel it will be considered an act of war conducted by the Lebanese government; if Lebanon allows and enables terrorists to stage attacks from its sovereign territory, Israel will hold it accountable.

Unlike last time, if we defend ourselves against a future Lebanese attack we will not use tweezers to search for a needle in a haystack: we will neutralize the haystack.

In the decade since 2006 Iran strengthened Hezbollah as its well-trained and well-equipped proxy. Its arsenal now contains more than one-hundred-thousand rockets, and many of its members have gained combat experience fighting for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in the civil war. Moreover, even as it lost hundreds of fighters helping Assad butcher other Syrians, Hezbollah readied itself for a potential war with Israel, stocking itself with advanced weaponry and fortifying its positions and command centers throughout Lebanon.

But Hezbollah is not only an Iranian-trained army stationed in Lebanon. It is part and parcel of the Lebanese government, boasting 12 seats in Parliament and two ministers in Cabinet. In fact, Aoun made it clear he no longer views the group as an alternative but as part of his government and strategy: “It is no longer an urgent matter to discuss the need to strip Hezbollah of its weapons,” he said in Cairo, hinting that Hezbollah is part of his army’s strategic planning.

This leads to a simple conclusion: if Hezbollah attacks Israel, it is tantamount to a Lebanese declaration of war against Israel.

If we are forced to fight – and to be clear, we have no desire to go to war – we will view all Lebanese governmental institutions as potential targets: any place used as a launch site for rockets at Israel a military post; any village hosting munition storages or command centers a military base; any Lebanese building or infrastructure used to attack Israel would become a valid military target for us to strike.

The results would be tragic for the Lebanese people.

However, the Lebanese people are the only ones who can make sure this scenario never becomes reality.

By removing Hezbollah’s rocket launchers from their backyards, hundreds of Lebanese families can save their homes. By stopping Hezbollah from using their schools as command centers, principals can protect their pupils. So long as Hezbollah is a welcome guest, the hosts are responsible for its actions.

Hezbollah’s power stems from its being embedded in Lebanon, and from Lebanon not being held accountable for Hezbollah’s acts of terror. Aoun made it clear this separation was artificial and irrelevant. As a result, Israel must let the world, and especially the Lebanese people, know Hezbollah is Lebanon.

Naftali Bennett, a Major in the IDF (reserves), is Israel’s Minister of Education and a member of the Inner Security Cabinet.

ISRAEL’S NEXT HEZBOLLAH WAR

hez
Philos Project, by Andrew Harrod, Aug. 12, 2016:

Between Israel and Hezbollah, “another conflict is all but inevitable,” wrote retired Israeli Brigadier General Yakov Shaharabani. “It will be far more destructive and harmful than any other war Israel has fought in recent memory.” The former Israeli Air Force Intelligence chief thus introduced a sobering Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies report a decade after Israel’s last clash with the Lebanese terrorist organization.

Shaharabani said that the July 2006 Lebanon War “was the longest Israel had experienced since its War of Independence in 1948,” but any future clash with Hezbollah will make those destructive 34 days pale by comparison. According to his FDD coauthors, the Israeli government estimates that Hezbollah has approximately 150,000 rockets today as opposed to the mere 14,000 it possessed prior to the 2006 conflict. Writing for the Weekly Standard, Vanderbilt University law professor Willy Stern said that this gives Hezbollah a “bigger arsenal than all NATO countries – except the United States – combined.”

Stern elaborated that Hezbollah’s state sponsor Iran has “supplied its favorite terrorist organization with other top-of-the-line weaponry,” including advanced Russian-made anti-tank and anti-ship missiles and air defense systems. The FDD report noted that sanctions relief for Iran under the recent nuclear agreement will only darken this picture, for “Iran’s massive windfall is expected to trickle down to its most important and valuable proxy: Hezbollah.” Additionally, “Hezbollah has gained significant experience during five years of fighting in Syria” for the embattled Bashar Assad dictatorship.

Israeli Defense Forces leaders have presented Stern with grim scenarios in which “elite Hezbollah commandos will almost certainly be able to slip into Israel and may wreak havoc among Israeli villages in the north.” Given Hezbollah’s “capacity to shoot 1,500 missiles per day, Israel’s high-tech missile-defense system will be ‘lucky’ to shoot down 90 percent of incoming rockets, missiles and mortars.” Accordingly, “IDF planners quietly acknowledge that ‘as many as hundreds’ of Israeli noncombatants might be killed per day in the first week or two of the conflict.”

The FDD report documented Shaharabani’s prediction that the “next Lebanon war could actually devolve into a regional war.” With Hezbollah’s expanding into Syria, “Hezbollah and Iran plan to connect the Golan Heights to the terror group’s south Lebanese stronghold – to make it one contiguous front against Israel. Iran can also unleash violence on Israel through its Palestinian proxies,” meaning, for example, that Hamas rockets “could force the Israelis to divert Iron Dome and other anti-missile batteries to the southern front with Gaza.” As Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “was already embedded with Hezbollah during the last conflict, there is the very real possibility that Iranian forces could join Hezbollah in battle during the next confrontation.”

The FDD report noted that recurrent Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria raise the dangers of killing Russian advisers or coming into combat with Russian warplanes now supporting Assad against the Syrian rebels. Israeli consultations with Russia seek to avoid these clashes, but scholar Michael Doran warned at his Hudson Institute’s July 26 panel discussing the report that the “potential for friction there is enormous.” Recent American coordination plans with Russia in striking jihadist groups like the Islamic State would enable the Assad coalition to approach Israel’s borders, implicating an Israeli “red line” concerning the IRGC there.

Experts agree that a future Hezbollah-Israel conflict’s havoc will engulf as well Lebanon, termed at the Hudson Institute as “Hezbollahstan” by the Israeli embassy’s Deputy Head of Mission Reuven Azar. “The IDF no longer distinguishes between the sovereign nation of Lebanon and Hezbollah,” Stern has written, now that the Shiite-based organization has expanded its influence beyond its south Lebanon stronghold to countrywide domination. Simultaneously, “Hezbollah cleverly places its arsenal where any Israeli military response – even legal, carefully planned, narrowly targeted, proportionate measures – will lead to huge civilian casualties among Lebanese.” As report author Jonathan Schanzer noted at a July 25 FDD event, Hezbollah has “turned Shia villages into essentially missile silos.”

“We are not in the business of trying to provoke a new round,” Azar said, echoing certain arguments in the FDD report, yet several factors indicate that Israel will accept a decisive challenge with Hezbollah if it comes. While report author Tony Badran noted at the Hudson Institute that Hezbollah “is not even comparable to what it was in 2006,” the coming years “risk seeing a Hezbollah that is infinitely more capable in terms of its weapon systems. This time period of the Iran nuclear agreement also portends an Iran that is unleashed, that is probably by that point a threshold nuclear state with a legalized industrial scale program and recognized regional primacy in Iraq and Syria.” As the FDD report stated, the nuclear deal “has placed Iran on a patient pathway to a nuclear weapon. The clock is ticking. Israel’s window of opportunity to defeat Hezbollah in the shadow of the nuclear deal cannot be ignored.”

Not surprisingly, the FDD report cited Israeli assessments of Hezbollah as Israel’s greatest threat, a view confirmed by Schanzer’s past three years of meetings with Israeli officials. While Shaharabani at FDD discussed how Hezbollah would view not losing a future conflict with Israel as a victory, Israel would desire a short, yet decisive campaign against a growing threat, however contradictory these two goals. As he wrote, “Israel may find out very quickly that deterring Hezbollah is not a sufficient strategic goal. Therefore, defeating Hezbollah (or forcing it to leave Lebanon) might become its strategic objective.”

Although Shaharabani’s remarks noted that the more extensive Israel’s actions against Hezbollah, the likelier the intervention by Iran and others, the FDD report remained resolute. “Should war break out, the United State should actively delay the imposition of a premature ceasefire in order to buy the Israelis as much time as needed to complete their military campaign,” it read. This no substitute for victory approach makes eminent sense if, as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Joseph Bahout judged at FDD, Israel’s war with Hezbollah is unavoidable, only the “question is when and under which circumstances.”

Beirut suicide bombings: At least 41 killed, 200 hurt

Residents inspect a damaged area caused by two explosions in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban

Residents inspect a damaged area caused by two explosions in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban

By Greg Botelho, CNN on Nov. 12, 2015:

(CNN) A pair of suicide bombings killed at least 41 people and wounded over 200 more Thursday evening in southern Beirut, Lebanese Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said.

The state-run National News Agency reported that two suicide bombers blew themselves up within 150 meters (490 feet) and five minutes of each other, shaking the Bourj al-Barajneh district in southern Beirut.

It was not immediately clear where they came from or what their motivation was.

But in a purported statement circulated online by ISIS supporters on social media, ISIS claimed responsibility for the blasts. CNN hasn’t confirmed the authenticity of the statement.

In addition to the human toll, the explosions damaged at least four nearby buildings. Video distributed by Reuters showed a dramatic scene in the bombings’ aftermath, with rescue workers carrying out victims past piles of rubble and through a mass of people.

After the blasts, authorities closed all entrances to Bourj al-Barajneh, NNA reported. Judge Sakr Sakr dispatched military police and other authorities to investigate the blasts, cordoning off the area around them.

Citizens have been urged to stay away from the bloody scene as well as nearby hospitals so that ambulances can more easily get back and forth.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared Friday a day of mourning for the victims of the bombings, a terrorist attack condemned by officials across the country’s political landscape.

Bombings not new to Lebanon

Lebanon has seen plenty of violence involving numerous parties in recent decades, including the current fallout from the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria.

That war has flooded the Middle Eastern nation with more than a million refugees, according to the United Nations, and also contributed to intermittent spillover violence.

Most of that bloodshed has been concentrated near the Syrian border, though not all, as evidenced by a November 2013 Beirut bombing that killed at least 23 people and wounded about 150 more.

The al Qaeda-linked militant group Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for that bombing and warned of more to come unless the Lebanese-based, Iranian-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah stops sending fighters to support Syrian government forces.

U.S. Strategy in Lebanon Stirs Fears

People in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, holding images of Syria’s president watch Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on a screen during his televised speech last month commemorating the 15th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. PHOTO: ALI HASHISHO/REUTERS

People in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, holding images of Syria’s president watch Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on a screen during his televised speech last month commemorating the 15th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon. PHOTO: ALI HASHISHO/REUTERS

WSJ, by JAY SOLOMON, June 9, 2015:

AMMAN, Jordan—The U.S. cut funding for a civil society program in Lebanon that seeks to develop alternative Shiite political voices to Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed militia and political party.

The group that received the U.S. support and critics said that the Obama administration was curtailing its efforts to counter Hezbollah to avoid confronting Shiite Iran, with which it is negotiating to conclude a historic nuclear accord this month.

These people say the funding cut imperils a program that underpinned criticism in Lebanon of Hezbollah’s growing role in supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

“We are more immediately worried about the message this sends to Shia communities, in Lebanon and the region, about their options for the future,” said Lokman Slim, director of Hayya Bina, the organization that lost the funding.

State Department officials denied pulling U.S. support for the development of alternative Shiite voices in Lebanon, saying the program wasn’t succeeding in its objectives. They said the administration still funds other programs run by Hayya Bina, including one that teaches English to Lebanese Shiite women.

“The U.S. continues to support groups and individuals who share our goal of a democratic, peaceful, pluralistic, and prosperous Lebanon,” said Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman.

But the U.S. move feeds into an alarmed narrative held by many Arab leaders who say that U.S. and Iranian interests appear increasingly aligned—at their expense. Both Washington and Tehran are fighting Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, with U.S. conducting airstrikes against the militants, but notably not against Mr. Assad’s Iran-backed regime.

Hezbollah, which the U.S. classifies as a terror organization, receives extensive funding and arms from Iran. It has deployed 10,000 soldiers in Syria to back Mr. Assad’s forces and counter Islamic State, U.S. officials estimate.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership, which supports the exiled leader of Yemen, was concerned when the U.S. last month met secretly with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels there that caused him to flee.

Most significantly, the Obama administration is seeking to conclude a deal with Iran by June 30 to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

Some pro-democracy activists in Washington also voiced concern that cutting Hayya Bina’s funding will send a message that the U.S. is tacitly accepting Hezbollah in an effort to appease Iran.

“At best, the decision shows poor political judgment,” said Firas Maksad, director of Global Policy Advisors, a Washington-based consulting firm focused on the Middle East. “Coming on the heels of an expected deal with Iran, it is bound to generate much speculation about possible ulterior motives.”

The U.S. government has continued to pressure Hezbollah financially, including teaming with Saudi Arabia in recent months to jointly sanction some of its leaders. “Disrupting Hezbollah’s far-reaching terrorist and military capabilities remains a top priority for the U.S. government,” Mr. Vasquez said.

But the Obama administration has also cooperated with Lebanese institutions—including the armed forces and an intelligence agency—that are considered close to Hezbollah and combating Islamic State and Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-affiliated militia in Syria.

The program in question was budgeted to receive $640,000 between June 2013 and December 2015, according to Hayya Bina. The funding was halted this spring, $200,000 short of the total amount, though the group continues to receive a smaller amount of U.S. funding for the other programs, as it has since 2007.

Two years before, in 2005, a popular uprising, sparked by the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, drove Syrian forces out of Lebanon. U.S. officials believed at the time the uprising would weaken Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon since both were close Assad allies. Instead, Hezbollah strengthened itself politically and militarily, U.S. and Arab officials say.

The Hayya Bina program in question was funded through the International Republican Institute, which promotes democracy overseas. It sought to support diverse Shiite voices through workshops, publications and public opinion polling. But in April, the institute notified Hayya Bina that the Obama administration was terminating its support for that program.

The State Department “requests that all activities intended [to] foster an independent moderate Shiite voice be ceased immediately and indefinitely,” said the April 10 letter to Mr. Slim, according to a copy seen by The Wall Street Journal. “Hayya Bina…must eliminate funding for any of the above referenced activities.”

Mr. Slim and other Hayya Bina officials said the State Department expressed no reservations about their program’s effectiveness and that the loss forced them to scramble for new funding.

“As Hayya Bina continues to receive State Department support for other projects, we believe the action taken regarding these objectives reflects reservations over the nature of the programming, rather than our organizational integrity,” said Inga Schei, the group’s program director.

Hezbollah has voiced growing criticism of Shiite political leaders and organizations in Lebanon opposed to the militia’s role in supporting Mr. Assad.

Hezbollah’s leader, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, has publicly branded some of his Shiite political opponents as “Shia of the American Embassy,” in recent speeches, as well as “traitors” and “idiots.”

Mr. Slim said he has been one of those Shiite leaders singled out by Mr. Nasrallah.

“None of us will change our beliefs,” Mr. Nasrallah said in a late May speech, according to the pro-Hezbollah newspaper, Al Akhbar. “From now on, we won’t remain silent [in the face of criticism]; we will accommodate no one. This is an existential battle.”

Also see:

obama-iran-450x286 (2)

Hezbollah’s Stealth Invasion Of A Christian Heartland

20150129_hezbollahinvadechristianFamily Security Matters, by Walid Phares, Jan. 29, 2015:

Christmas greetings from Hezbollah? That what some, including the Daily Star of Beirut, would have us believe about a series of visits by the Shia terrorist group to the heartland of the Christian Mount Lebanon during the holiday season. Hezbollah, armed and funded by Iran and part of Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal arsenal in the Syrian civil war – do not have peace and goodwill in mind, even as they pass out handshakes, smiles and holiday greetings to Christians. Slowly but surely, Hezbollah members are normalizing their physical presence in the “Christian wilaya” in what amounts to a soft invasion of an area crucial to dominating the whole of Lebanon.

Even though Hezbollah is fighting today in Iraqi and Syrian battlefields, its eyes are focused on every inch of land in Lebanon. Hezbollah was formed in early 1982 as part of the Iranian regime’s expansion in Lebanon. Its leaders were followers of Iran’s radical fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini, and its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards that arrived from Iran with permission from the Syrian government. Iran remains Hezbollah’s key backer and spiritual guide, pouring billions of dollars and increasingly sophisticated weaponry into the group, which the U.S. Institute of Peace rightly calls “the most successful example of the theocracy’s campaign to export its revolutionary ideals.”

According to the National Counterterrorism Center, “Hezbollah has been involved in numerous anti-US terrorist attacks, including the suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, and the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984, as well as the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985 and the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia in 1996.”

If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, neither should the group’s holiday well-wishes in the Christian enclaves of Jbeil and Kesrwan. According to civil society groups’ reports, armed Hezbollah patrols are roaming these same Lebanese villages by night.

Christian Mount Lebanon is crucial to Hezbollah – and to Iran. It is among the last holdouts in their domination of Lebanon, giving them a way not only to challenge and threaten Israel, but to create a line of defense against Sunni extremists like ISIS.

Hezbollah has had a very successful “clear and hold” strategy of its own in Lebanon. They walked behind the Syrian tanks into Baabda in 1990, subdued the south in 2000, and marched into West Beirut in 2008. The last territory to be secured is northern Mount Lebanon. Overtaking the towns of Kesrwan and Jbeil, together with neighboring Batroun, would allow Hezbollah to control the vital coastal road from Dahiye to Tripoli, which includes two key ports that link Lebanon to the outside world, as well as the road from the sea to the summits overlooking the Bekaa. The problem is that this part of Mount Lebanon – and others as well – has a majority of Christian Lebanese who maintain an historical grievance with the Iranian-Assad-Hezbollah troika. They will fight to the last if it comes to it.

The Christians of Mount Lebanon are increasingly isolated and slowly but unmistakably besieged by forces from without and within. ISIS is a real threat to Lebanon, as it is to the whole of the region. But Hezbollah is already there, walking among them, smiling and plotting. Regardless of ISIS, the people of Mount Lebanon will rise against Hezbollah. Indeed, the million citizens who drove or walked from the towns and villages of Mount Lebanon to Martyrs Square in Beirut in 2005 came to demonstrate against the Assad-Iran axis in Lebanese affairs.

Hezbollah’s strategists are savvy and they know how to maneuver, particularly in Lebanon. They benefit from a large and effective propaganda machine, one that includes, sadly, apologists within the Christian community whose political wounds from an intra-community civil war a quarter of a century ago have never healed. But their deft holiday campaign is nonetheless cynical and very dangerous. They have cleverly concealed an invasion in holiday wrapping. A Trojan horse for an endangered Christian community. We must assure this sacred land does not turn into the Ayatollah’s next battlefield.

A version of this piece previously appeared on The Daily Caller.

Dr Walid Phares is an advisor to the US Congress on Counter Terrorism, and the author of ten books including Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America and The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East. Dr Phares appears on national, international and Arab media. He teaches at several universities and briefs US Government agencies on Terrorism and the Middle East.

Also see: