Reports: Washington might halt military aid to Lebanon

Move would push Lebanon to find another supplier, perhaps one hostile to U.S. and Israeli interests, expert warned.

By
September 6, 2018 16:42
3 minute read.
Lebanese army soldiers patrol the city on the eve of the country's parliamentary election, in Sidon

Lebanese army soldiers patrol the city on the eve of the country's parliamentary election, in Sidon, Lebanon May 5, 2018. (photo credit: ALI HASHISHO/REUTERS)

 
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Hezbollah’s growing influence on Lebanon’s government might lead Washington to stop providing military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and other Lebanese security agencies, a move which could have important implications for Israel.

The report by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat comes after a similar report in Kuwait’s Al-Jarida which said that the United States was planning to place sanctions on Lebanon due to President Trump’s displeasure with the Beirut government.

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While both reports cite unnamed Lebanese sources, Asharq al-Awsat stated that Washington would automatically suspend cooperation with any Lebanese government ministry which is led by Hezbollah.

The Trump administration has recently cut $300 million for military assistance to Pakistan as well cutting all funding to UNRWA which provides aid to more than five million Palestinian refugees.

David Daoud, a research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Jerusalem Post that while the Lebanon “is an imperfect ally” for Washington it is in the interest of all sides, including Israel, to continue providing aid to the LAF.

“The benefits to Lebanon are obvious: it receives military assistance and backing from the world’s super power, with no ideological strings attached. As far as Israel is concerned, it’s also beneficial that the United States – and not Russia or Iran – are funding or supplying the army,” he told the Post.

The United States has provided some $1.7 billion worth of military equipment to the LAF since 2006 to help troops protect the Middle Eastern country’s borders and bolster it from the threats posed by militant groups.

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The Departments of State and Defense also work closely with the LAF to support the provision of training and equipment, including fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, vehicles, arms, and munitions. Some 120 US military personnel are also deployed to Lebanon, at the request of the Lebanese government, in order to enhance Beirut’s counterterrorism capabilities.

In July, House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade
Subcommittee held a hearing on the Trump administration’s arms sales to various countries including Lebanon where Congressman Ted Poe, the subcommittee chairman, asked the Pentagon and State Department officials for assurances that US arms sold to Lebanon were not making their way into the hands of Hezbollah.

According to Daoud, the halting of military aid to the LAF would not only end all weapons sales and joint training drills but would have broader highly problematic consequences.
“It would result in unmooring the Lebanese Army – and more broadly, Lebanon – from the United States, which would be a highly problematic outcome,” he said.

“Pulling our aid would not eliminate Lebanon’s security concerns, and instead send it scrambling for another supplier. Were that to be a country hostile to US interests, it could also compromise the security of our regional allies. I doubt Russia would be scrupulous enough to ensure that the LAF poses no threat to Israel,” Daoud said.

“Moreover, were the LAF to be weakened by such a move and find no other military sponsor, that would be to Hezbollah’s benefit and bolster is image among the Lebanese – if even begrudgingly – as the country’s defender,” he added.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon, and the deployment of the LAF and an enlarged UN force in the south.

But Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon is nothing new, and senior officials in Israel’s defense establishment have warned that Lebanon’s army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.

According to the IDF, cooperation between the LAF and Hezbollah has increased in the past year. The IDF has warned that the next war will see Israel target not only military infrastructure but civilian infrastructure used by Hezbollah.

On Monday, the head of the Israeli military’s Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick warned that the next conflict between the two enemy countries would be the last.

“I hope there won’t be another war, but if there is, it won’t be another Second Lebanon War, but the final northern war,” he said.

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