Should the U.S. Stop Funding the Lebanese Army?

(Washington Post) Janine Zacharia - After Israel and Hizbullah fought a war in 2006, President Bush bolstered assistance to the Lebanese army to create a counterweight to the Shiite militia. Now, after a deadly clash last week between Israeli and Lebanese troops, some on Capitol Hill want to stop funding Lebanese forces entirely. A day before the Aug. 3 border fight between Israel and Lebanon, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Ca.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had put a hold on $100 million in assistance to the Lebanese military because of his concern that Hizbullah's influence over the army had grown. Some lawmakers in both parties have also expressed frustration at the Lebanese military's lax patrolling of the border with Syria and the continued flow of Iranian-made weapons to Hizbullah. Israel estimates the group has now amassed an arsenal of roughly 40,000 rockets, four times what it had during the 2006 war. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said after spending more than $700 million over five years on the Lebanese military, "it has become clear that assistance to Lebanon has not advanced U.S. national security interests." In interviews with former Lebanese military officials, current politicians and an array of observers in Lebanon, not a single person said he thought the army would take steps to disarm or distance itself from Hizbullah in the near term, with or without U.S. assistance. "Most of the Lebanese army now is against Israel and is pro-Hizbullah," said retired Lebanese general Elias Hanna. Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war. When Hizbullah took over Beirut in May 2008, the Lebanese army not only avoided confrontation, but also facilitated Hizbullah's seizure of certain key institutions. Many of the army's key figures are Shiites sympathetic to Hizbullah, including the powerful deputy head of Lebanese military intelligence. The last two Lebanese army commanders, both Christians, struck a pro-Hizbullah stance that helped them become presidents.

2010-08-13 09:44:23

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