U.S. ends freeze on $100 million in Lebanon aid

Clay Curtis
December 5, 2019

The Trump administration released more than $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon before Thanksgiving, two congressional staffers and an administration official confirmed to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

As first reported by Reuters, the U.S. State Department told Congress on October 31 that the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council had made a decision to withhold $105 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.

It was already approved by Congress and was backed by the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council, said the AP. The reason behind the holdup remains unclear despite members of Congress pressing the White House for an explanation, but there isn't any evidence anything shady was going on.

In this context, another former USA ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month warned of the potential benefits to Iran and Russian Federation from withholding the military funding to Lebanon. The State Department had notified Congress on September 5 that the money would be spent.

The nebulous freeze on the military aid was mentioned in the testimony of an impeachment-inquiry witness last month.

Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy called the report "stunning", saying holding the money weakened the Lebanese army.

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David Hale, one of the top officials in the State Department, who served as USA ambassador to Lebanon from 2013 until 2015, in testimony to House impeachment investigators signaled that the hold on the aid to Lebanon went back to late June.

As with the Ukraine assistance, OMB did not explain the delay.

"There's literally nothing in the Middle East this White House can't screw up (State and DoD opposed the hold FYI)", Murphy wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who joined Engel in demanding an explanation for the delay, said he was "pleased to see this critical aid finally resuming".

Some pro-Israel members of Congress have sought to defund the Lebanese military, arguing that it has been compromised by Hezbollah, which the US designates as a "foreign terrorist organization". Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a bill calling for the United States to withhold 20% of USA aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, or LAF, until the military outfit could certify it was taking steps to cut ties with Hezbollah.

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