Warplanes: Hellfire For Lebanon


October 21, 2014: The United States is sending Lebanon some Cessna Caravan 208 aircraft equipped with laser designators and Hellfire missiles. The Cessna Caravan 208 is a single engine aircraft designed to carry nine passengers or about a ton of cargo. Hellfire equipped Cessna Caravan 208s have been used by the Iraqis since 2009 with great success. Lebanon wants to use them to deal with Sunni Islamic terrorists raiding across the border from Syria.

Since 2006 the United States has provided over $200 million of military aid to Lebanon. This was all in an attempt to restore peace in southern Lebanon and weaken Hezbollah. The main idea was to revive the Lebanese army. This force of some 70,000 troops, is actually quite large for a country of only four million people (it's about four times as many troops, per capita, as the United States has on duty). But since the 1970s the Lebanese army has been either non-existent (during 1975-90 civil war), or allowed to languish, lest it become mobilized by one faction or another for a new civil war. But in 2006 Lebanon had a chance to reassert control over the south, which has a fiefdom of the Shia Hezbollah militia since the 1980s. Israel controlled part of the south from 1982 until 2000. But it was Hezbollah who always claimed the south as their own.

The 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon stipulated that Hezbollah would be disarmed. Hezbollah said they would not and it was up to the Lebanese army to try and make disarmament happen. To that end in 2006 the United States donated an initial $11 million in military aid, with a lot more to follow if it appeared that the U.S. effort was having a positive effect. U.S. trainers had been in Lebanon before the 1975-90 civil war. The Lebanese army is still equipped with a lot of 1970s vintage American helicopters, armored vehicles and trucks. The U.S. is willing to upgrade all that, and bring in new stuff. The key unknown is whether the Lebanese troops will accept some professional training, and guidance in how best to disarm Hezbollah.

The Lebanese accepted the initial American offer, but there was considerable political blowback, and military threats, from Hezbollah. The Lebanese Army did not roll over, but they did not move on Hezbollah either. A frustrated United States stopped the aid effort at times, but then resumed because many in the Lebanese Army wanted to confront Hezbollah but cautioned that they had to wait for the right moment. That moment may be approaching because since 2011 Hezbollah has been increasingly sucked into the Syrian civil war. This is at the behest of Iran, who has financed, armed and trained Hezbollah since the 1980s. The majority of Lebanese back the Syrian rebels and the Hezbollah aid for the Syrian government is unpopular even among many Lebanese Shia. The Hezbollah involvement in Syria is making Hezbollah more vulnerable in Lebanon, and the U.S. is providing a lot more aid for Lebanese Army to take advantage of that.






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