The Trump administration is withholding over $100 million in military aid to Lebanon that has been approved by Congress. The withholding of aid comes as Lebanon is trying to form a new government.
Saad Hariri, the former Prime Minister, announced his resignation on October 29th. Just two days after Hariri’s resignation the US State Department told Congress the aid was going to be withheld.
Pro-Israel lawmakers in Washington seem to be at odds over the aid. A bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the “Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act.” The bill would require the administration to present a report to Congress on the presence of Hezbollah in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). If Congress is not happy with the results, Lebanon will lose 20 percent of its military aid. Rep. Lee Zeldin (D-NY) introduced a resolution of the same name in the House.
Taking a different approach, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) wrote a public letter to the Trump administration. The letter stressed the importance of the aid and said it is “necessary for building the capacity of the Lebanese government to maintain security and stability and to support the LAF in a variety of areas.”
Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel Evangelical group, is also pushing for a change in the US policy towards aid to Lebanon. In a policy brief earlier this year, the group wrote, “Instead of being used to aid the LAF in reinforcing its borders and safeguarding its sovereignty as envisioned by the State Department, US aid is being used to arm the very terrorist organization that threatens Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
The Trump administration could be leveraging the aid while Lebanon forms its new government in hopes it will decrease Hezbollah’s influence. Critics of the move say it will increase the influence of Iran, Syria, and Russia.
Hezbollah accused the US of meddling in the formation of Lebanon’s new government. On Friday, Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem told Reuters, “The first obstruction in the formation of the government is America, because it wants a government that resembles it and we want a government that resembles the Lebanese people.”
Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group by the US, even though they are a legitimate part of Lebanon’s government.