US withholding aid for Lebanon

Officials say Trump administration withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon amid protests in the country.

Elad Benari ,

Protest in Beirut, Lebanon
Protest in Beirut, Lebanon
Reuters

US President Donald Trump’s administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon, two US officials told the Reuters news agency on Thursday.

The State Department told Congress on Thursday that the White House budget office and National Security Council had decided to withhold the foreign military assistance, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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.

The administration had sought approval for the assistance starting in May, arguing that it was crucial for Lebanon, an important US 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, according to Reuters.

Washington, however, has also repeatedly expressed concern over the growing role in the Beirut government of Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Hezbollah, which has a strong political presence in Lebanon, is a major part of the cabinet, after the group and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in the election last May.

Thursday’s report comes two days after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation amid huge protests against the ruling elite.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

Following Hariri’s resignation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Lebanon’s political leaders to help form a new government which will be responsive to the needs of its people and called for an end to endemic corruption.

One US official told Reuters he believed the security assistance was necessary for Lebanon, as it struggles with instability not just within its own government but in a turbulent region and houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.

The official said it was especially important to strengthen Lebanon’s military, which he deemed one of the most capable institutions in the country now, largely because of support from Washington.

The official said drawing aid away from Lebanon could pave the way for Russia to move in. Russia has expanded its influence in Syria since Trump announced he was withdrawing US forces from the northeastern part of the country.




top