What happened: The US has released $105m of aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), after months of delay, according to US sources including a senior State Department official and two congressional staffers. The officials spoke anonymously but said the funding for the Lebanese Armed Forces was released last week.
- The State Department official said the LAF is “an excellent partner to the United States in counter terrorism and fighting Sunni jihadi islamists. They have developed in recent years high level capabilities in that regard.” He added that the Lebanese military has responded in an “impressive fashion” in recent weeks to large protests.
- The Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an Israeli think tank, in a briefing published yesterday commented on the “stabilising and calming role of the Lebanese army” but it notes continuing concern that the LAF “will fight against Israel alongside Hezbollah if and when a broad conflict breaks out.”
Context: No reason had been given for the withholding of funds to Lebanon by the US administration before the aid was quietly released last week.
- The money had been approved by Congress and had support from the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council, but had remained in limbo at the Office of Management and Budget since September.
- The White House and Office of Management and Budget have declined to comment on the issue.
- But it comes in the context of the US maximum pressure strategy against Iran, and pressure from some hawkish members of Congress to de-fund the Lebanese military due to concerns that the Lebanese military has become subordinate to Hezbollah, a key Iranian ally, and that continuing to fund it only serves to enhance Hezbollah’s hold on the country.
Looking ahead: The US administration has decided for now that supporting the LAF serves US interests and increases the chances of stability in Lebanon. There is a clear contrast between the restrained and cautious approach by the Lebanese army to the protests in Lebanon, where one person has been killed, and in Iraq, where hundreds have been killed by the armed forces and militias. But the issue of LAF-Hezbollah links will linger on and continue to be raised by US congressional figures who have criticised the Lebanese Government and the LAF for being unable or unwilling to tackle Hezbollah’s dominance of the South of the country and its deployment of missiles and weapons in violation of UNSC 1701.