Trump Lifted a Mysterious Hold on Military Aid to Lebanon Amid Mounting Criticism and Comparisons to Ukraine

 In Iran, GDI, Russia, Land, Defense, Ukraine, Iraq
  • The Trump admin­is­tra­tion qui­et­ly released $105 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid to Lebanon amid ris­ing crit­i­cism and con­cern from US law­mak­ers and both cur­rent and for­mer US offi­cials.
  • The mil­i­tary aid was placed under a mys­te­ri­ous hold for months, with no expla­na­tion. 
  • Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recent­ly trav­eled to Lebanon, said there was “no legit­i­mate secu­ri­ty ratio­nale to with­hold fund­ing.”
  • Lebanon is expe­ri­enc­ing wide­spread unrest and the Lebanese Armed Forces is wide­ly viewed as one of the only enti­ties that can help keep the peace and pro­tect demon­stra­tors. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s home­page for more sto­ries.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has released mil­lions in mil­i­tary aid to Lebanon after plac­ing a mys­te­ri­ous hold on the funds, which prompt­ed crit­i­cism from law­mak­ers and for­mer US offi­cials. 

The aid was released right before Thanksgiving and law­mak­ers were noti­fied on Monday, two con­gres­sion­al staffers and an admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial told the Associated Press.

The $105 mil­lion in Foreign Military Funding for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) was approved by Congress and had strong sup­port with­in the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council, but was placed on hold for months.

The White House has not respond­ed to mul­ti­ple requests for com­ment from Insider. 

The neb­u­lous freeze on the mil­i­tary aid was men­tioned in the tes­ti­mo­ny of an impeach­ment inquiry wit­ness last month. David Hale, one of the top offi­cials in the State Department who served as US ambas­sador to Lebanon from 2013 until 2015, in tes­ti­mo­ny to House impeach­ment inves­ti­ga­tors sig­naled that the hold on the aid to Lebanon goes back to late June. 

Hale said this was around the time he “first start­ed to hear that there was a prob­lem” with the rough­ly $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine, which was frozen by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion over the sum­mer and released on September 11. 

“I learned from a mem­ber of my staff, I believe, and the aid pack­age to Lebanon was also being held in the same fash­ion,” Hale said. “So, you know, peo­ple start­ed ask­ing: What’s the prob­lem?”

Hale, the third high­est rank­ing offi­cial in the State Department, told House inves­ti­ga­tors he had “not received an expla­na­tion for hold on the Lebanese assis­tance pro­gram.”

‘There was no legitimate security rationale to withhold funding’

Lebanese army soldiers and riot police are deployed after clashes broke out between anti-government demonstrators and supporters of the Shi'ite movements Hezbollah and Amal in Beirut, Lebanon, November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Lebanese army sol­diers and riot police are deployed after clash­es broke out between anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors and sup­port­ers of the Shi’ite move­ments Hezbollah and Amal in Beirut Reuters

Lebanon is cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing polit­i­cal unrest linked to mass dis­con­tent­ment with the coun­try’s polit­i­cal sys­tem and econ­o­my, and the LAF is wide­ly seen as one of the only enti­ties capa­ble of pre­vent­ing the sit­u­a­tion from becom­ing more chaot­ic than it already is. The LAF is also seen as an impor­tant buffer against Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite Muslim mil­i­tant group and polit­i­cal par­ty that’s con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist group by the US. 

In this con­text, anoth­er for­mer US ambas­sador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, in tes­ti­mo­ny to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month warned of the poten­tial ben­e­fits to Iran and Russia from with­hold­ing the mil­i­tary fund­ing to Lebanon. 

“The mil­i­tary assis­tance now under review should be rapid­ly released,” Feltman said to House law­mak­ers last month. “At a time when the LAF’s pop­u­lar­i­ty is trend­ing most­ly upwards com­pared to what appears to be Hezbollah’s rep­u­ta­tion­al decline, we can rein­force what is, for us and for Lebanon, a pos­i­tive momen­tum.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recent­ly trav­eled to Lebanon, in a series of tweets last week slammed President Donald Trump for freez­ing the aid to Lebanon. Murphy com­pared the sit­u­a­tion to Trump’s hold on secu­ri­ty assis­tance to Ukraine, warn­ing that doing so could ben­e­fit US adver­saries while harm­ing impor­tant part­ners. 

In a state­ment pro­vid­ed to Insider by the sen­a­tor’s office on Monday, Murphy said: “My trip to Lebanon con­firmed that we must con­tin­ue invest­ing in the LAF, and I’m relieved that reports indi­cate these crit­i­cal funds have been released.”

Murphy added: “There was no legit­i­mate secu­ri­ty ratio­nale to with­hold fund­ing, and lots of rea­sons why with­hold­ing aid would actu­al­ly hurt US inter­ests. But the admin­is­tra­tion alarm­ing­ly decid­ed to delay these funds with­out expla­na­tion and did so at the worst pos­si­ble time.”

The Connecticut sen­a­tor said that in con­trast to vio­lent respons­es to oth­er protests in the region, such as the dead­ly crack­downs on demon­stra­tions in Iraq and Iran, the LAF has “stepped up to pro­tect demon­stra­tors and defend the demo­c­ra­t­ic rights of Lebanese cit­i­zens.” Murphy said the LAF “deserve our respect and strong sup­port at this crit­i­cal moment.” 

Source: Business Insider (Military & Defense)

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