US quietly releases aid to Lebanon

The Trump administration has released more than $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon after delaying the aid for several months.

Tags: US-Lebanon
Elad Benari ,

Anti-government protests in Beirut, Lebanon
Anti-government protests in Beirut, Lebanon

The Trump administration has quietly released more than $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon after previously delaying the aid for several months, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

The $105 million in Foreign Military Financing funds for the Lebanese Armed Forces was released just before the Thanksgiving holiday and lawmakers were notified of the step on Monday, two congressional staffers and an administration official said.

Last month it was reported that the Trump administration is withholding the security aid for Lebanon, though no reason was provided for the move.

The money had languished in limbo at the Office of Management and Budget since September although it had already won congressional approval and had overwhelming support from the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council.

The White House has yet to offer any explanation for the delay despite repeated queries from Congress, according to AP.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., had been pressing the administration since October to either release the funds or explain why it was being withheld. The State Department had notified Congress on September 5 that the money would be spent.

While no official reason had been given to the delay, Washington has in the past 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.

When Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned recently amid huge protests against the ruling elite, 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.

Israel’s Channel 13 News reported last month that senior State Department official David Schenker rejected Israeli criticism regarding US assistance to the Lebanese armed forces.

Schenker had told reporters in Jerusalem that the Trump administration thinks giving aid to the Lebanese army is “a good investment."

AP noted in Monday’s report that some pro-Israel members of Congress have sought to defund the Lebanese military, arguing that it has been compromised by Hezbollah. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has long advocated cutting the assistance and is expected to introduce legislation that would bar such aid as long as Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s government.

The Pentagon and State Department reject that view, saying the army is the only independent Lebanese institution capable of resisting Hezbollah.