Oren decries ties between LAF, Hizbullah

After border clash, US defends aid to Beirut for weapons.

Lebanese Soldiers 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Lebanese Soldiers 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – The distinction between the Lebanese Army and Hizbullah has become “cloudy” and advanced weaponry given to the Lebanese military could find its way to the Islamist group, Ambassador to the US Michael Oren warned on Wednesday.
But Oren, when asked on a conference call whether the US had any plans to stop providing arms and assistance to the Lebanese Army, said “there’s no indication yet” of that happening.
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Earlier on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley defended American assistance to the Lebanese military despite its shooting of two IDF officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other, as they cut down a tree along the northern border on Tuesday. The IDF returned fire and killed two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist.
“I don’t think this fundamentally changes the support that we’re providing to the government of Lebanon,” he said.
“We are committed to Israel’s security, but we’re also committed to Lebanese sovereignty.
These interests are not mutually exclusive. They’re not in contradiction.”
He added, “Unfortunately, from time to time, you have these flashpoints. But it doesn’t change our long-term strategic interest in the region.”
Asked about reports that the Lebanese snipers used American- issued guns to shoot at the IDF, Crowley said he couldn’t confirm the accounts, but noted, “We have provided support to Lebanon to strengthen the ability of the Lebanese government to exercise its own sovereignty. This is in our interest.
We certainly do not want to see the kind of exchanges of fire that occurred yesterday.”
A desire to avoid a recurrence is also getting the attention of Capitol Hill, where some legislators are taking a closer look at US military aid to Lebanon.
Rep. Ron Klein (D-Florida) told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “It certainly is going to come up in our conversations in the Congress about the continued support of the Lebanese Army.”
US has boosted military aid to Lebanon in recent years
The US has boosted military assistance to Lebanon in recent years as it has sought to bolster the parts of Beirut’s governing coalition most in step with the West. Though the Lebanese Army and Hizbullah have traditionally been in different camps, Hizbullah has exercised increasing influence within the country’s political institutions and power structures.
About $100 million in military assistance, plus smaller amounts for counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations and training, is being considered, consistent with the amount allocated last year.
Klein and other Capitol Hill sources said the degree to which the Lebanese attack was sanctioned by army and government higher-ups and how those officials responded would inform the view Congress takes on assistance being considered for next year.
Oren indicated, though, that the problematic behavior of the Lebanese Army extended beyond Tuesday’s incident.
He said that the Lebanese military has aimed shoulder-fired rockets at Israeli installations and permitted its soldiers to stone patrolling Israeli soldiers in recent incidents.
Oren described increasing ties between Lebanese military officials and Hizbullah members.
“Israel tends to view the distinction between the Lebanese Army and Hizbullah as increasingly cloudy,” he said on the conference call with the the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The Lebanese Army shares all its intelligence with Hizbullah. There are highranking officers in the Lebanese Army who are closely associated with Hizbullah.”
He continued, “Our assumption is that particularly advanced weaponry in the hands of the Lebanese Army could very well find its way into the arsenals of Hizbullah.”
In the case of an outbreak of full hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah, Oren concluded, “The Lebanese Army has thrown in its lot with Hizbullah in any future conflict with Israel.”
And on Thursday, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) called the Lebanese Army's actions "troubling and problematic." Like Klein, Towns was on a Congressional trip to Israel and was briefed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the violence along the border.
Towns, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the committee's oversight authority can be used "to ensure that United States assistance does not go to states and entities that are hostile to Israel."