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Hearing of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - Lebanon's Security Challenges and U.S. Interests


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement during a subcommittee hearing titled: "Lebanon's Security Challenges and U.S. Interests." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"Lebanon's a country that is seemingly perpetually in a state of conflict or on the verge of breaking out into conflict at any moment. A bloody and protracted civil war ravaged the country over 25 years ago, and Lebanon has never really been able to fully recover.

One of the byproducts of the Lebanese Civil War was the emergence of Hezbollah in the early 1980's. Long associate with the Ba'ath party in Syria - led by Bashar al-Assad and his father before him -- and backed by the Iranian regime, Hezbollah has received its financial and military support from Tehran while allying itself politically with Damascus.

Hezbollah is a U.S. designated terrorist organization and has been responsible for conducting many acts of violence that have left hundreds of innocent U.S. and Israeli citizens dead. It has long waged a war against our closest friend and ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel, most notably setting off the 2006 conflict when it conducted a cross-border raid in Israel, kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers.

This led to a 34-day long campaign in which Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets indiscriminately into Israel prompting an Israeli military response that finally ended in a ceasefire. Now we see Hezbollah responsible for much of the bloodshed in Syria, and it has brought that conflict across the border into Lebanon, and with it, other terrorist groups like the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This is not just a threat for Lebanon -- this increased violence threatens to destabilize the entire region, threatening U.S. national interests and our democratic partner, Israel.

In recent months, ISIL has been seeking to expand its influence in Lebanon and its commander said the group would use Lebanon as a gateway for al-Qaeda to strike Israel. So how do we protect U.S. security interests, or Israel, and ensure stability in Lebanon?

The strain that the Syrian conflict has put on Lebanon cannot be understated. Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that the number of refugees who have fled to Lebanon is now over one million and counting.

The United States continues to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanon -- nearly $350 million to date -- in an effort to help it cope with this massive influx of refugees. And since 2006, we have also increased our security assistance to Lebanon with the goal of improving the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and its Internal Security Forces (ISF) aiming to bolster their capacity to serve as effective and nonsectarian forces to provide safety in Lebanon.

Lebanon is in the middle of a political transition -- again, divided along religious ideologies and positions taken in support or against Assad in Syria -- and it is imperative that a government can be formed that can put aside sectarian and religious identities, and work toward stabilizing the country.

A small step was taken earlier this year when a new cabinet was formed after nearly a year of deadlocked negotiations. But now with the current president's term set to expire next month and elections pushed back until November, continued violence and animosity between the main political groups threaten to derail the process.

The Administration must continue to press the Lebanese leaders to hold free, fair, and transparent elections on time. But in order to have elections, the security situation must improve so we must help the LAF and ISF fight back the increased sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart.

The U.S. cannot continue to take a reactive, lead from behind approach in Lebanon as it has been doing throughout the rest of the region. The Administration's failed policies in Syria and Iran did not create the atmosphere we see in Lebanon now, but they have certainly contributed to the instability.

Instead of coddling Iran and offering concession after concession, we should be condemning the Iranian regime for its support for terrorism -- namely Hezbollah -- and its abysmal human rights record. Even while the Syrian crisis continues, and the sectarian violence spreads throughout Lebanon, we cannot forget that these terror groups continue to pose a very real threat to U.S. national security, and to Israel.

Just last month Israel seized an Iranian arms shipment that was headed to Gaza and likely bound for Hezbollah, and Israel continues to see the Assad regime attempt to transfer sophisticated weapons -- like Russian supplied surface-to-air missiles -- to these extremists, and Israel is then forced to take action to prevent these transfers.

It's time the Administration defines a clear and decisive plan and takes real and concrete action to defend our interests and that of our allies."

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