The Lebanese army has closer ties to Hezbollah than the U.S. wants to admit.
WASHINGTON — More than $1 billion in U.S. military equipment quietly began flowing to the Lebanese military over the last year.
Saudi Arabia is paying for much of it: powerful missiles, advanced aircraft. But Washington is also making its contribution. Lebanon, a country one-third the size of Maryland that is nestled between Syria and Israel, has today become the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. military aid.
The flood of money indicates how worried the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other power players have become about the extremist threat that Islamic State militants and the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria pose to Lebanon.
The Obama administration is betting the Lebanese military can keep the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and al-Qaeda from wreaking further havoc. Both groups have developed cells in Lebanon that they are likely to activate in response to battleground shifts in Syria, Lebanese officials say.
But it’s a dangerous bet. As the Obama administration doles out weapons and money to fend off one extremist threat in Lebanon, it’s risking that U.S. equipment might end up supporting another group that’s no friend to America: the Shiite paramilitary organization Hezbollah — a key ally of Iran, backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and unrelenting foe of U.S. ally Israel.