United States lifts hold on $105 million in security aid to Lebanon

Nellie Chapman
December 5, 2019

Donald Trump's administration has lifted a mysterious "hold" on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.

Congress was informed on October 31, by the U.S. State Department, about the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council's decision to hold up funds over $100 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.

A congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the assistance has been unblocked by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Sen.

A congressional committee aide told Al-Monitor that the USA administration gave the State Department guidance last Wednesday that it would not announce that the aid would be released, but did not provide a rationale for disbursing the money.

David Hale, one of the top officials in the State Department, who served as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from 2013 until 2015, in testimony to House impeachment investigators signaled that the hold on the aid to Lebanon went back to late June. Hale described growing consternation among diplomats about the delay.

The military aid was placed under a mysterious hold for months with no explanation. The State Department had offered only a cryptic response to queries, defending the assistance but also calling for Lebanese authorities to implement economic reforms and rein in corruption. Murphy compared the situation to Trump's hold on security assistance to Ukraine, warning that doing so could benefit USA adversaries while harming important partners.

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The nebulous freeze on the military aid was mentioned in the testimony of an impeachment-inquiry witness last month.

"The delay had frustrated the national security community, which believes the assistance that pays for USA -made military equipment for the Lebanese army is essential, particularly as Lebanon reels from financial chaos and mass protests".

The Trump administration has been tight-lipped on the reason for the hold-up in support for Lebanon but has been pressing the government to distance itself from Hezbollah, the Shiite militant movement close to Iran.

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". "There's literally nothing in the Middle East this White House can't screw up".

"I m pleased to see this critical aid finally resuming".

A senior administration official confirmed to Insider that the United States is "providing $105 million in foreign military financing for the Lebanese Armed Forces".

The Pentagon and State Department reject that view, saying the army is the only independent Lebanese institution capable of resisting Hezbollah.

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