By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Congresswoman)),  Last month, the people of Lebanon said no to fear. They would not be silenced or intimidated as they rejected the corrupt government imposed on them by the Syrian regime. However, the recent elections represent only the first step toward the full restoration of independent democratic governance in Lebanon.The current election was conducted under a 2000 Syrian-inspired law which denies fair and equitable electoral treatment to one of the most significant sectors of the Lebanese population. This law breaks Lebanon into large constituencies, thereby marginalizing one of Lebanon’s largest communities and continuing to enable Syrian and Iranian proxies to perpetuate the undue influence of their terrorist states. The United States must help the people of Lebanon in their efforts to restore the separation of powers and the rule of law by promoting electoral reform. Concurrently, we must help rebuild and strengthen Lebanese civil society so that the Lebanese people can once again thrive under independent democratic rule, free from the tentacles of Syrian manipulation. While some of Syria

Syrian and Iranian proxies in Lebanon retain the ability to pursue a new round of intimidation against the opposition, as illustrated by their most recent assassination campaign against anti-Syrian figures. The United States has repeatedly voiced its concern regarding Syrian military intelligence operatives remaining in Lebanon in defiance of international demands to withdraw all forces and agents. The U.N. has dispatched a verification team back to Lebanon to investigate the extent of Syrian interference, and specifically whether any Syrian intelligence forces remain.

Yet there are continuing reports that Syria’s role in arms supply to Hezbollah has qualitatively increased, with Syria facilitating the delivery of Iranian weaponry — including extended range Katyusha rockets — to Hezbollah. This trend clearly illustrates the threat that Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization of global reach, continues to pose to the international community, the United States, our allies, and the Lebanese people themselves.

The verifiable disarmament of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and militias is a vital component in both the emergence of a sovereign and democratic Lebanon and in the establishment of regional stability. As such, U.S. assistance to a newly formed Lebanese government needs to be conditioned on concrete progress on this front and on systemic political reforms that will ensure an end to undue influence by Syria, Iran, and their terrorist proxies.

Lebanon was once a land of promise — a vibrant society known as the “Paris of the Middle East.” Taking steps to ensure that the newly formed government is not manipulated by sinister outside forces, that future elections are held without foreign interference, and that destabilizing forces such as Hezbollah are disarmed and disbanded will take a quickly recovering Lebanon a big step closer to realizing its full potential.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee as well as the chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East & Central Asia.

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