US administration wants to keep working with Lebanese army

Mitchell: The Lebanese Armed Forces is the symbol of one, united Lebanon, and plays a large part in the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people.

September 19, 2010 02:25
3 minute read.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell

Mitchell 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration wants to continue working with the Lebanese Armed Forces, a top US envoy said Friday, weeks after an attack by a LAF force on IDF soldiers caused Congress to suspend aid.

“I have assured the senior leaders of this country of our strong desire to maintain a close relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces,” US Middle East envoy George Mitchell said from Lebanon, where he was concluding a week-long trip to the Middle East. “The Lebanese Armed Forces is the symbol of one, united Lebanon, and plays a large part in the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people.”

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Key members of Congress put a hold on $100 million in annual assistance to the LAF after its soldiers shot at Israeli troops who were clearing brush on the Israeli side of the border on August 3, killing Lt.-Col. (res.) Dov Harari, 45, from Netanya, and seriously wounding Capt. Ezra Lakia. The IDF returned fire, killing two soldiers and a journalist.

Since then the administration has been in talks with Congress over the LAF’s funding and the mechanisms to ensure it is not implicated in future incidents with Israel. Legislators have been particularly concerned that US equipment could end up in the hands of Hizbullah due to the increasingly fuzzy relations between the Islamist group and the Lebanese army.

Despite the Obama administration’s perspective, congressional sources told The Jerusalem Post that the issues had not been resolved from their end.

While in Lebanon, Mitchell also stressed the key role Lebanon plays in US efforts for a regional peace.

“We believe that Lebanon is a vital part of the comprehensive Middle East peace that President Obama seeks,” he said.

Mitchell also sought to defuse Lebanon’s fears concerning its Palestinian population, declaring that “the United States does not and will not support the forced naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Mitchell stressed the US belief that peace is possible, even though there are those who are “determined to disrupt these efforts.

“We are determined to see this process through,” he said.

A complicating factor in any Lebanese-Israeli deal is the position of Hizbullah, and a new report released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns that the next confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah could lead to a war that goes well beyond the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

“The new war will likely be wider in geographic scope and more destructive,” wrote report author Jeffrey White, former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. “The dynamics of the fighting will produce rapid escalation, possibly pulling in Syria and Iran.”

He said that both Israel and Hizbullah had been seriously preparing for war since their experience in 2006, and both had sought to shore up the vulnerabilities that conflict exposed.

For Israel, that has meant increased training and equipping of reserve units, focusing on ground operations to take out Lebanese missile launchers and improving the armored vehicles used by the troops.

In the case of Hizbullah, White cited improved air defenses, extra communications systems and an replenished inventory of rockets and missiles – now numbering over 45,000 – with greater accuracy.

White assessed that currently Israel is in the better position, but that a war could still be taxing for both sides.

“Although Israel will most likely prevail in this scenario, victory for either side will carry substantial costs,” he said.

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