WASHINGTON: A top US congressman has blocked 100 million dollars in aid to Lebanon’s military, saying he cannot be sure the country’s armed forces are not working with Hezbollah.
Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Monday that he had placed the hold on August 2, pointing to last week’s deadly clash between Israeli and Lebanese troops along the countries’ shared border.
"Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hezbollah influence on the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) —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," Berman said.
"The incident on the Israel-Lebanon border only one day after my hold was placed simply reinforces the critical need for the United States to conduct an in-depth policy review of its relationship with the Lebanese military," he added.
The announcement came hours after representative Eric Cantor warned that the lines between the Shiite movement and Lebanon’s armed forces had become "blurred."
"The days of ignoring the LAF’s provocations against Israel and protection of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon are over," said Cantor, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives.
"Lebanon cannot have it both ways. If it wants to align itself with Hezbollah against the forces of democracy, stability and moderation, there will be consequences," said Cantor, a fierce defender of Israel.
Cantor said the United States had provided roughly 720 million dollars since 2006 in military aid "to build up a Lebanese fighting force that would serve as a check on the growing power of the radical Islamist Hezbollah movement."
But, he said, "For the past few years, the US and the international community looked the other way as the lines between Hezbollah and the Lebanese military and government became blurred."
Meanwhile, senior government official says Lebanon is contacting the U.S. government to provide assurances that American weapons supplied to the Lebanese army are not falling into the "wrong hands."
A Lebanese official said Tuesday his government is contacting those in Washington "who need to be made more aware." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Relations between Israel and Lebanon have been strained in the wake of the deadly exchange of fire last week that killed two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, as well as an Israeli officer.
The standoff was sparked when Israeli troops tried to cut down a tree on the border, prompting the Lebanese to fire on them.