Reuters: U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon; Night Vision Goggles; Vox Populi

This article is written as a mystery. Did the authors meditate on the vanishingly small percentage of readers who could interpret?

(Reuters) U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon. Quoting,

The administration had sought approval for the assistance starting in May, arguing that it was crucial for Lebanon, an important U.S. partner in the volatile Middle East, to be able to protect its borders. The aid included night vision goggles and weapons used in border security.

The circumstances, which are not explained to the article authors, have superficial resemblance to the blocking of Ukraine aid:

The officials did not say why the aid was blocked. One of the sources said the State Department did not give Congress a reason for the decision….The State Department declined to comment.

But it’s nothing of the kind. The issue of aid is caught between:

  • Diplomatic and strategic benefits of military aid.
  • Risk of appropriation of U.S. military equipment by hostile parties, primarily Hezbollah.

Lebanon is divided by ethnicity and religion. But other than the size of the groupings, the workings of society are quite similar to  tribal Iraq. In both countries, the primacy of the tribes and religious groupings are challenged by protests that have more resemblance to the European revolutions of 1848 than Arab Spring. More than uprisings against tyrants, these are protests against systems.

A detailed analysis of Lebanon’s alliances show only the groupings of the moment. Without troubling to identify the exact moment Michael Aoun, the Maronite Christian president, became a Hezbollah ally, we have the handshake of March 7, 2019. (AP) Lebanon’s president says Hezbollah part of Lebanese people.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned three days ago. (CNN) Lebanon’s Hariri resigns after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests.  In 2017, Hariri, who is also a Saudi citizen, was held hostage in Saudi Arabia, in an apparent attempt to pressure Hariri not to conciliate with Hezbollah. That strategy has failed.

This is the picture of the moment. It has an infinity of details to get lost in. The vox populi is doubtless being manipulated by unseen hands. We’ve seen enough of that domestically to understand how it works. The situation is fluid, so fluid that the attempt to foster pro-U.S. sentiment, even in limited sectors, is like building a castle out of quicksand.

Fearing further expansion of Russian influence, it is natural to look to the Lebanese Army. Historically, it is no Rock of Gibraltar. While back in the day, it reflected the primacy of Maronite power, it is divided by ethnic composition. It looks good only by comparison to Hezbollah.  (CNN) A New Jersey man scouted US landmarks for potential Hezbollah attacks, charges allege.

Perhaps the country’s preservative gift is the  beauty of Lebanon’s geography, with an open business climate that formerly bridged the West and the Middle East. This is now mostly a memory, but perhaps the persistence of it staves off complete chaos. The Lebanese share a dream.

Let us return to military aid. The question centers around a curious gadget, a vacuum tube. If you’re old enough, you may remember the soft glow of these tubes from the backs of TV sets and radios. Vacuum tubes have been completely replaced by solid state devices, with a few isolated exceptions. Sensor technology is one of them.

Night vision goggles contain a special kind of tube, with two ends. One end is a cold cathode, which releases electrons in response to very small amounts of light, such as that provided by a moonless night. The electrons are accelerated to the other end of the tube, where they hit a phosphor, which glows in response to each hit. The result is the grainy image.  I used a slightly obsolete Generation 2.5 intensifier to examine my back yard on a moonless night, and found a herd of deer.

For stationary surveillance, there are even more sensitive imagers, which require no visible light at all, responding to the long-IR “heat” given off by the human body. This is sensor technology.

The vacuum tubes and other parts in these systems are not off-the-shelf. Even if an adversary acquires samples, manufacturing the duplicate is a challenge. The U.S. possesses a technological lock on the most advanced sensor technology.  more so than even MANPADs such as the Stinger.

Treated well, goggles have a long lifetime.  Unlike other military technologies, they require no infrastructure, networking, or support. Goggles augment the sensory capabilities of the individual soldier. To detect, see, and engage in total darkness is a capability we would like to deny all but our closest allies.

For the future, the Pentagon’s concerns can be mitigated. It is highly feasible to build in a short lifetime for the intensifier tube, the central device of the goggles. The shorter the leash, the better.

So we have a plausible explanation for the decision to deny aid,  a conflict between  State and the Pentagon. A short argument suggests that the aid is insufficient to prevent the intrusion of Russian influence:

  • Hezbollah, a terror organization and Iran proxy, has no collaborative points with the U.S.
  • Hezbollah has collaborative value to Russia with the security of southern Syria.
  • Saudi Arabia, whose interests coincide with the U.S., and with some shared culture, failed to project into Lebanon. Their man, Hariri, has just been  booted.
  • Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah  prefers Hezbollah as genuinely Lebanese. Hariri is not.

I’m reminded of the remark of one rueful Russian, who compared the U.S. and Russian interventions in Afghanistan. He said, paraphrasing, “Maybe the richest country in the world can buy the poorest [Afghanistan]”.

If State wants influence in Lebanon, try bank bailouts. Soft power beats hard. See Pivot to Asia; Soft Power, 1 of many, which is also relevant to (Reuters) China cites ‘early harvest’ benefits in Guadalcanal deal.

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