Congress may pull Lebanon military aid

Rep. Klein: Border shooting will "certainly come up in conversations."

congressman ron klein 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
congressman ron klein 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
WASHINGTON – Some members of Congress are threatening to reassess US aid to the Lebanese military following its border clash with Israel on Tuesday.
“To start shooting as they did – one person killed, one seriously injured – is a very serious move by the Lebanese army,” said Florida Rep. Ron Klein, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post.
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“It certainly is going to come up in our conversations in the Congress about the continued support of the Lebanese Army,” he said.
Klein was speaking by phone from Israel, where he happened to be visiting when the incident, which also left two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist dead, took place.
He noted that the UN had confirmed that Israel was operating in its territory while cutting down a tree along the border, when the Lebanese army opened fire.
Klein indicated the degree to which higher-ups had been involved would affect Congress’s view.
“If in fact it’s factually shown that this was a Lebanese government authorized action, I think a lot of members would be very concerned about continuing to provide military support to Lebanon,” he said. “I certainly would be.”
Last year, the US approved $100 million in assistance to the Lebanese military, as well as $109m. in economic aid and $20m. in anti-narcotics funds. The Obama administration has requested the same levels for 2011, with small increases for anti-narcotics, anti-terror and military training programs.
A State Department representative declined to respond to a Post query about whether the incident would affect US aid to Lebanon, or to otherwise address the concerns being expressed in Congress.
The subcommittee dealing with foreign operations has already approved the funds for 2011, but it will only be reviewed and voted on by the full Appropriations Committee once Congress returns from its summer recess.
“One of the purposes of aid to Lebanon is to professionalize its military so incidents like this do not happen.Congress will surely look closely at this assistance as the situation unfolds,” said one Democratic Capitol Hill aide in anticipating how the full committee review would go.
“Whenever there’s somebody who receives foreign aid of any kind from the United States who has a conflict with any of our close allies, especially in the Middle East, which is such a volatile region, you absolutely rethink US support,” a congressional staffer with the foreign operations subcommittee said.
But he echoed Klein’s position that the extent to which Tuesday’s shooting was authorized by superiors would affect the steps Congress takes.
“When you have the UN standing up for Israel, clearly the Lebanese army made a mistake,” he said.
“The question is, how high up does it go? Was it premeditated? Are the Lebanese soldiers going to be reprimanded?” he asked.
“If soldiers were out of line, that’s one thing. If it comes from the top, that’s another.”
But either way, the committee staffer pointed out that the realities of the Middle East would still likely result in some level of American aid directed to the Lebanese military.
“It doesn’t mean there’s going to be a certain reduction, because unfortunately for that region it’s the lesser of two evils.
We’d much rather work with the army than Hizbullah.”