By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JERUSALEM POST
Two Jewish Democrats on Capitol Hill give support to US funding for LAF after reassurances that money, equipment won’t fall into Hizbullah hands.
WASHINGTON – Two key members of Congress have decided to lift their holds on aid to the Lebanese military on Friday, clearing the way for $100 million to be transferred to the force.
The money has been tied up since August after the members expressed concern about American funds ending up in the hands of Hizbullah, particularly after a deadly incident in which Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers shot at IDF soldiers along the border.
Nita Lowey (D-New York), chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the appropriations committee, and Howard Berman (D-California), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had both requested reassurances from the State Department concerning oversight for the money, which helps train and equip the military.
“The administration gave detailed briefings and provided thorough written responses to Congresswoman Lowey’s questions and concerns about the assistance and safeguards in place to prevent it from falling into terrorists’ hands,” a Democratic Congressional staffer said of Lowey’s decision to lift the hold Friday. “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.”
The State Department, which lobbied to reverse the holds, has long argued that the funds are an important counter-weight to Hizbullah’s growing influence and military might.
In recent days, the Islamic terror group has sought to flex its muscles as Lebanon awaits the result of a United Nations report into the assassination of the anti-Syrian Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri, which is expected to identify Hizbullah as perpetrating the killing.
Hizbullah has said it would oppose any indictments and many in Lebanon are worried about a new round of violence erupting if Hizbullah members are fingered.
Berman also cited the information he received from the administration as making him feel comfortable lifting the hold.
“I am convinced that implementation of the spending plan will now have greater focus, and I am re-assured as to the nature and purposes of the proposed package,” he explained. “I also understand that the LAF has taken important steps to prevent recurrence of dangerous and provocative actions.”
He added, “I have also been given reason for confidence that assistance to the LAF has not fallen into the hands of Hizbullah and that every possible measure is being taken by Lebanese and American authorities to prevent that from happening.”
Still, Berman noted his continued concern about events in Lebanon, and pointed out that some of the elements of the aid package are still not ready for delivery. When they are, there will be an additional round of Congressional notification, allowing him and Lowey to renew their objections.
A State Department official told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that the administration welcomed the move.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodhman Clinton issued a warning to Hizbullah against resorting to violence, saying the militant group cannot stop a UN court investigating the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.
“Hizbullah should know that resorting once again to violence in Lebanon runs completely counter to the interests of the Lebanese people, the interests of the region, and of the United States,” Clinton said. “They should also know that if the goal of violence is to stop the tribunal, it won’t work,” she added.