cElliott Abrams: Why Are American Taxpayers Funding the Lebanese Army?

This article was first published on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last November, I raised some doubts about U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). My main concern was that the LAF "is increasingly intertwined with Hezbollah."

Now there is another reason to doubt that American military aid to Lebanon can be justified.

Hanin Ghaddar, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been convicted by a Lebanese military court for the "crime" of defaming the army. After a closed trial held in absentia , she has been sentenced to six months imprisonment. The sad story is told by the Washington Institute here, and relates to comments she made at a conference in Washington in 2014.

A boy waves a flag of Lebanon's militant Shiite movement Hezbollah as a soldier stand guard during a tree planting event organized by Hezbollah in the southern Lebanese village of Khiam, along the border with Israel, on December 2, 2017. -/AFP/Getty

There has been a very wide and powerful outpouring of support for her, and rightly so. But Americans should realize something about that kangaroo court: we are paying for it! As I noted in my testimony, "We've given the LAF over a billion dollars in military aid, including $123 million in FY2017, and Lebanon is the fifth largest recipient of foreign military financing (FMF). Our ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, said publicly on October 31 that total support for the LAF from State Department and Defense Department accounts totaled $160 million over the previous year."

Whatever we think we are supporting with that aid, surely we do not wish to help pay for a system of military courts that suppress freedom of speech and seek to punish someone for speaking in Washington.

It's worth adding that what Ghaddar said that elicited these attacks on her was the simple truth: as the Washington Institute described it, "that the Lebanese military targets Sunni groups while showing preference to Shiite groups, such as Hezbollah."

When Congress next takes up military aid for Lebanon, this effort to suppress free speech--and to make telling the truth about Hezbollah's role in Lebanon illegal--should be item number one.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.