NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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Last month, the LAF fired on the IDF without any provocation, killing a senior officer.
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IDF soldiers patrol the border between Israel and Lebanon. Hizballah, based in southern Lebanon, has an estimated 45,000 rockets in its arsenal.
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The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) supported Israel’s claims that it was operating south of the international border when its troops were fired upon.

Lawmakers Block Funding to Lebanese Army

Last month, after the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) fired on Israeli soldiers without any provocation and killed a senior officer, many key members of Congress from both parties began questioning the wisdom of U.S. arms sales to the LAF. Several lawmakers have put a hold on aid to the LAF until the State Department reviews the aid program and provides reassurances.

The issue of the LAF’s accountability had long been on a priority for Congress, but the recent cross-border shooting made the matter much more urgent.

“I have been concerned for some time about reported Hizballah influence on the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and its implications for our military assistance program for Lebanon,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “For that reason, on August 2, I placed a hold on a $100 million dollar security assistance package to the LAF.”

Berman’s timing was uncanny—the LAF fired on the Israel Defense Forces the next day. The incident “simply reinforces the critical need for the United States to conduct an in-depth policy review of its relationship with the Lebanese military,” he said.

“Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hizballah influence on the LAF—and can assure that the LAF is a responsible actor—I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, joined Berman in placing the hold.

“This incident was tragic and entirely avoidable,” Lowey said. “U.S. assistance is intended to enhance our safety and that of our allies.”

Republican leaders agreed with their Democratic counterparts. “Lebanon cannot have it both ways,” said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor. “If it wants to align itself with Hizballah against the forces of democracy, stability and moderation, there will be consequences.”

Cantor added, “Congress must convey that message by blocking the roughly $100 million in 2011 assistance to the LAF until we find out the details of last week’s attack and can certify that the Lebanese army is not cooperating with Hizballah.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed similar views. “After spending almost $700 million in the last 5 years alone, it has become clear that assistance to Lebanon has not advanced U.S. national security interests,” she said.

“Instead of being disarmed, Hizballah has massively rearmed—and it is an increasingly influential part of Lebanon’s government. Syria and Iran have also regained their hegemony in Lebanon.”

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting a briefing about current U.S. policy toward Lebanon.

“First, I am concerned that the training and equipment we have provided the LAF for the purposes of counter-terror may in fact be used by the LAF against the Israelis,” Skelton wrote. “I am also concerned of reports that the LAF is collaborating with Hizballah and that Hizballah is, as a result, an indirect recipient of our aid.”

In the meantime, Lebanon remains a serious threat to Israel. Iran and Syria are transferring increasingly sophisticated weapons to Hizballah. The terrorist organization now maintains an arsenal of an estimated 45,000 rockets—more than three times what the group had before it started a war against Israel in 2006. BACK TO TOP