Skip to main content

Congressman suspends US aid to Lebanese army

By Elise Labott, CNN Senior State Department Producer
  • Berman puts on hold a $100 million military package
  • He says he is concerned about Hezbollah's influence on the Lebanese army
  • The U.S. State Department has defended the aid package

Washington (CNN) -- The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday he put a hold on a $100 million U.S. military package for Lebanon's army out of increased concern American-supplied weapons could threaten Israel.

Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat from California, said in a statement he suspended the aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces on August 2 because he was concerned about the influence the militant group Hezbollah may have in the army.

He said those concerns were reinforced a day later when Lebanese soldiers allegedly shot and killed an Israeli soldier along the Israel-Lebanon border.

He called on the Obama administration to conduct an in-depth policy review of its relationship with the army, known as the LAF.

"Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hezbollah influence on the LAF 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 August 3 fighting, in which four were killed, including two Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli officer, marked the most serious fighting between Israel and Lebanon since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Although Hezbollah didn't take part in the fighting, there has been speculation the group may have encouraged it.

The Bush and Obama administrations have pushed for substantial military packages for the Lebanon, arguing a strong army was crucial to help the government extend its authority over the country, which has been challenged by Hezbollah.

Other members of Congress, including Reps. Ron Klein, a Democrat from Florida, and Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, have made similar calls to halt aid to Lebanon.

"Lebanon cannot have it both ways," Cantor said in a statement. "If it wants to align itself with Hezbollah against the forces of democracy, stability and moderation, there will be consequences."

The State Department defended the aid Monday.

"We have an extensive military cooperation program with Lebanon because it's in our interest to have that program," spokesman PJ Crowley said. "It allows the government of Lebanon to expand its sovereignty. We believe that is in the interest of both of our countries and regional stability as a whole."