A senior U.S. legislator, who will lose his key committee chairmanship position in the new GOP-controlled Congress, has done a last minute U-turn and removed his former opposition to $100 military aid for Lebanon. Several Congress members, as well as Israel, have expressed concerns that the weaponry will end up in the arms of Hizbullah.
House Foreign Affair Committee Democratic chairman Representative Howard Berman said on Friday, “I am reassured as to the nature and purposes of the proposed package. As a result of these assurances, I am lifting the hold on the $100 million spending plan for the Lebanese Armed Forces.”
The State Department has backed the aid, arguing that it would serve the interests of Lebanon and the United States. The Hizbullah terrorist organization has widely been noted by observers as having infiltrated deeply into the Lebanese army. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said several weeks ago that it is difficult to distinguish between the Lebanese and Hizbullah armies.
Rep. Berman and Democratic colleague Nita Lowey blocked the aid program in August after a Lebanese soldier used an American weapon and killed IDF reserve officer Dov Harar without provocation. The officer was operating within Israeli territory.
Retired Major-General Giora Eiland said after the attack, “Due to the fact that Hizbullah is the only significant military force north of border, I would not hesitate to think Hizbullah persuaded a Lebanese commander to do something, TIME magazine reported after the incident, in which another IDF officer was wounded.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Washington Post before last week’s battle, Defense Minister Barak warned “that the wall between the Lebanese armed forces and Hizbullah—it’s quite porous. And whatever you give the Lebanese armed forces might end up in the hands of Hizbullah, be it technology or weapons or whatever.”
Berman explained on Friday that the Lebanese army has taken “important steps to prevent a recurrence of dangerous and provocative actions.” He said he was assured that military aid would not end up in the Hizbullah terrorist militia. He did not offer details except to say that the Obama administration disclosed classified information in favor of the assistance.
“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,” Matthew Dennis, a spokesman for Lowey, stated.
Final approval may be blocked when the new Congress is sworn into office. Berman is to be replaced by Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who said, “Unanswered questions remain concerning the long-term impact and long-term strategy of U.S. assistance” to Lebanon, which she noted is “increasingly influenced by Hizbullah.”
Rep. Eric Cantor, the sole GOP member in the House of Representatives and who is slated to be majority leader, said in August, “The days of ignoring the Lebanese Armed Forces’ provocations against Israel and the protection of Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon are over. Lebanon cannot have it both ways. If it wants to align itself with Hizbullah against the forces of democracy, stability and moderation, there will be consequences.”