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Tuesday, June 14, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Report: Despite $1 billion in U.S. aid, Iran, Syria still dominate Lebanon

WASHINGTON — For the second time, the United States, despite nearly $1 billion in assistance, has lost Lebanon to Iran, a report said.


A report by a former senior official said Washington has again failed to stop Lebanon from being dominated by Iran and Syria. The report, titled "Fool Me Twice: How the United States Lost Lebanon — Again," asserted that U.S. aid to Lebanon's government and military did not block the deterioration of the country's pro-democracy movement.

"For the second time in three decades, a substantial American investment of time, money, and effort to strengthen the Lebanese government and support its fledgling democracy has come to very little," the report, authored by Eric Edelman and Mara Karlin, said. "Hizbullah, Teheran, and Damascus now dominate the country's intractable domestic politics. U.S. diplomacy is left powerless, wondering how to make the best of an increasingly untenable situation in the Levant."

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Edelman, a former defense undersecretary, said U.S. efforts to help the Lebanese military did not prevent Beirut's domination by Iran and Syria. He said Washington used the same methods to influence Lebanon in 2005 as it did in its first failed effort in 1982.

"While the Syrian and Iranian governments quickly provided the terrorist group Hizbullah with sophisticated weaponry, the U.S. commitment to devote more than half a billion dollars to rapidly train and equip the Lebanese Armed Forces languished in the ponderous machinery of statecraft," the report said. "Despite the clear urgency in Lebanon, it took until the fall of 2006 for the first materiel to arrive in Beirut."

Still, U.S. support was said to have saved the Lebanese government during the Al Qaida takeover of a Palestinian refugee camp in 2007. The report said Washington sent more than 40 C-130s to delivery military equipment within a few weeks, which turned the tide against the Islamist insurgents.

The report said the administration of then-President George Bush missed its chance to help Lebanon when it decided against undermining Syria.

Instead, Washington began to engage Iran and Syria in an effort to stabilize neighboring Iraq and Damascus reasserted its role in Lebanon.

"During this period, Washington, torn by internal dissension over Syrian policy and undermined by unhelpful interventions by Turkey and Israel, was never able to bring sufficient pressure to bear on Damascus," the report said. "Syria's few allies during this period included the Iranians and North Koreans, neither of whom had international credibility."

By 2008, the pro-Western ruling coalition in Lebanon, called March 14, began to crumble in face of Hizbullah pressure. But the United States refused to intervene militarily and save the Beirut government from Iran and Syria.

Under President Barack Obama, the report said, Washington has replaced confrontation with reconciliation toward Damascus and Teheran. Despite continued U.S. military aid, Washington's interest in Lebanon appeared to fade as Syria became the focus of the administration.

"Although the Obama administration remains committed to a policy of outreach and engagement with Damascus, it has little to show for its efforts in the region," the report said. "At some point, the pressure track will once again appear to offer the only real hope of altering Syria's mischief in Lebanon."

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