Congress lifts hold on $100 million for Lebanese army

Two Jewish Democrats on Capitol Hill give support to US funding for LAF after reassurances that money, equipment won't fall into Hizbullah hands.

lebaneese sniper311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
lebaneese sniper311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON – Two key members of Congress have lifted their holds on aid to the Lebanese military, clearing the way for $100 million to be transferred to the force.
The money has been tied up since August, when the lawmakers expressed concern about American funds ending up in the hands of Hizbullah, particularly after an incident in which Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers shot at IDF soldiers along the border, killing an Israeli officer.

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Nita Lowey (D-New York), chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and Howard Berman (D-California), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had both requested reassurances from the State Department concerning oversight for the money, which helps train and equip the military.
“The administration gave detailed briefings and provided thorough, written responses to Congresswoman Lowey’s questions and concerns about the assistance and safeguards in place to prevent it from falling into terrorists’ hands,” a Democratic congressional staffer said of Lowey’s decision to lift the hold on Friday.
“Improving Lebanon’s ability to defend its borders, stop arms trafficking, build institutions and fight terrorist elements is imperative to the security and stability of the region.”
The State Department, which lobbied to reverse the holds, has long argued that the funds are an important counter-weight to Hizbullah’s growing influence and military might.
In recent days, the Shi’itegroup has flexed its muscle as Lebanon awaits the report of a United Nations tribunal on the assassination of the anti-Syrian Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri, which is expected to identify Hizbullah officials as responsible for the killing.
Hizbullah has said it would oppose any indictments and many in Lebanon are worried about a new round of violence if Hizbullah members are fingered.
Berman also cited the information he received from the administration as making him feel comfortable lifting the hold.
“I am convinced that implementation of the spending plan will now have greater focus, and I am reassured as to the nature and purposes of the proposed package,” he explained. “I also understand that the LAF has taken important steps to prevent recurrence of dangerous and provocative actions.”
He added, “I have also been given reason for confidence that assistance to the LAF has not fallen into the hands of Hizbullah and that every possible measure is being taken by Lebanese and American authorities to prevent that from happening.”
Still, Berman noted his continued concern about events in Lebanon, and pointed out that some of the elements of the aid package are still not ready for delivery. When they are, there will be an additional round of congressional notification, allowing him and Lowey to renew their objections.
A State Department official welcomed the move on Friday, saying the funding of the LAF “is part of an international commitment to help strengthen the institutions of the Lebanese state and the ability of the Lebanese government to exercise its sovereignty and authority over all of its territory.”