The federal government is catching fire from the Opposition Conservatives over a recent meeting by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is an ally of Hezbollah, and for pledging to provide Lebanon with $8 million in security and defence aid.
At the same time, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said it was concerned that money provided to the government of Lebanon could end up being transferred to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that threatens Israel.
The concerns were raised after Dion paid an official visit to Lebanon from Dec. 2 to 6. Commenting on Facebook, Dion said the purpose of the visit was “to strengthen important bilateral relations between Canada and Lebanon and to support Canada’s contribution to peace, security and stability in Lebanon and the Middle East. This trip is a great opportunity for me to connect with a country represented by so many of my constituents who have shared their difficult experiences with me.”
But it was his meeting with Bassil, who, in addition to serving as foreign minister, leads the Free Patriotic Movement, which represents a segment of Lebanon’s Christian community, that exercised the Tories most.
Bassil’s party maintains “close ties to Hezbollah,” said Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent. “Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist group in Canada, has close ties to the Iranian regime and has stated one of its goals is the destruction of Israel.”
Kent added that in 2014 Bassil compared Israel to ISIS, saying they “are similar in their terrorism and destruction, and that they converge to the extent that ISIS is the best Israeli tool to create divisions in the region.”
Kent said comparing Israel to ISIS “is sheer lunacy.
“Despite these slanderous comments against Canada’s greatest ally in the region, the Liberal government has committed $8 million in new security and defense aid to Lebanon. As with their unacceptable $25 million contribution to the Hamas-connected United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA], this Liberal government has devoted Canadian tax dollars to those who are hostile to Israel, with little or no guarantee of accountability,” Kent stated.
He urged Dion “to renounce… Bassil’s false equivocation of Israel and the terrorist group ISIS and to reconsider Canada’s contribution to a country whose foreign minister has a history of hostile rhetoric aimed at the Jewish state.”
CIJA weighed in by saying it was following developments closely.
“Given the frequency with which weapons and military materiel has found its way to Hezbollah, we are clearly concerned and are seeking assurances from the Canadian government that adequate measures are in place to ensure that the aid is used for the intended purposes. In addition to posing a direct threat to Israel, Hezbollah’s interventions in Syria have exacerbated the conflict and suffering experienced by the besieged civilian population. Assistance from Canada must not result in an emboldened or enhanced Hezbollah presence in the region,” said CEO Shimon Fogel.
JSpace Canada chair Karen Mock said that “this was a multi-party mission, designed to promote discussions to achieve security in the region. It is also my understanding that it continues to be the policy of the Canadian government that they will not meet or negotiate with Hezbollah, or any other group listed as a terrorist organization.”
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “While I appreciate Canada’s desire to support Lebanon’s efforts against the terror and brutality of ISIS, I am concerned that meetings with Lebanese officials accused of ties to Hezbollah and Iran will be counterproductive and potentially harmful. I would urge our leaders to hold Lebanon accountable for any funding we provide, and to leverage Canadian support to ensure a cessation of rhetoric aimed at our democratic ally, Israel.”
Dion’s spokesperson Chantal Gagnon defended the meeting.
“Maintaining relationships is essential to ensure that the unrest of the region does not spread to other countries as it enables the delivery of vital military, development and humanitarian aid. Engagement is the more difficult path, but it is the only way to press for change, uphold Canadian interests, and to credibly hold people to account,” Gagnon said.
“Canada’s support in security and stabilization assistance for Lebanon is provided through trusted partners, not directly to the government of Lebanon, and in co-ordination with allies… Canada rejects any suggestion that Israel and Daesh are similar. Israel is our close partner, friend, steadfast ally and a strong democracy,” she added.
“Canada is very clear on Hezbollah, it is a terrorist organization, full stop… and we have no contact with its members.”
Last February, the Associated Press reported a rift within the Lebanese government over ties with Hezbollah. At the time, the country’s Justice Minister, Ashraf Rifi, resigned from cabinet, saying Hezbollah dominated the government and had harmed Beirut’s relations with Arab countries.
Rifi resigned two days after Saudi Arabia scrapped deals worth $4 billion (US)to equip and support Lebanese security forces. The Saudis cancelled the deals when Lebanon failed to back the Sunni kingdom against Iran, the leading supporter of Hezbollah.
At the time, Bassil refused to support Saudi resolutions against Iran during two meetings of Arab and Muslim foreign ministers. Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement is a key ally of Hezbollah.
“He [Bassil] dared to offend the kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the request of Hezbollah,” Rifi said in a statement announcing his resignation