(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – The State Department is working to allay the concerns of members of
Congress who have put a hold on funding to the Lebanese military, following last
week’s deadly border incident with Israel, a spokesman said Tuesday.
RELATED:Lebanon protests aid suspensionPM: Lebanon responsible for border clash
understand that this incident has raised very legitimate questions on the Hill
and we will continue to engage leaders on both sides of the aisle to help
assuage concerns that exist,” said State Department spokesman P.J.
However, he defended US military assistance to the Lebanese
Armed Forces as something that’s “in our national interest and contributes to
stability in the region.”
He added that the US has “no indications” that
its training programs were in any way implicated in the incident.
also pointed to statements by Iran that it would fill whatever funding gap is
left by the US with its own money as an example of the need for the US to keep
up its contributions.
“The statements by Iran are expressly the reason
why we believe continued support to the Lebanese government and the Lebanese
military is in our interest,” he said.
In addition to the recent border
skirmish between Lebanon and Israel, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
Howard Berman cited more general concerns of Hizbullah involvement with the
Lebanese army in placing a hold on $100 million in funds slated for
Crowley responded to the concern by saying that, “Hizbullah is a
fact within Lebanese society and much of our effort in supporting the Lebanese
military is in fact the very professionalization that we think helps mitigate
Though Lebanese officials and Hizbullah have insisted the
Shi’ite militant group was not involved in last week’s deadly exchange, some
critics in Israel and the US are charging that Hizbullah may have infiltrated
The Lebanese government said the cutoff in aid was
“unwarranted” and hurt American- backed efforts to build up its national army.
For years, the US has pumped money into Lebanon’s military, hoping a
strengthened army would extend state authority across the country and sideline
“The last thing that the US or any other friend of Lebanon
should do is to weaken the effort to build up our national army,” said Mohamed
Chatah, an adviser to Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
He added that
government officials were contacting Washington “to make sure that there is a
better and fuller understanding of the situation in Lebanon and along the
The clashes began after an Israeli soldier tried to remove a
tree along the border, something the military has done in the past to
its sightlines into Lebanon. Both sides claimed the tree was in their
the United Nations later determined it was on the Israeli side.
highlighted the tensions in the area, where Israeli and Lebanese
within shouting distance of each other, and underlined how easily the
could re-ignite along the frontier where Israel and Hizbullah fought a