Obama pushing to restore Lebanon aid, despite Congress fears of threat to Israel
President believes $100 million in assistance to Lebanon Army serves America's security interests, top U.S. officials say.
The Obama administration wants lawmakers to restore millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Lebanon's army that they suspended over concerns it could be used to target Israel.
Senior administrationand congressional officials told The Associated Press on Thursdaythat a review of the assistance has concluded its resumption was in the interest of America's national security and Middle East stability. Lawmakers had asked for the review after placing holds on $100 million in aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces last month.
The officials spoke on condition ofanonymity because the administration has not yet completed classified briefings to the members of Congress who held up the money.
The findings are not surprising as theadministration has long argued that assistance to Lebanon's army balances the influence of Syria, Iran and their proxies in the country.
Several lawmakers placed holds on the money over concerns it could affect Israel's security due to fears the militant Hezbollah movement has influence in Lebanon's army.
Among those raising concerns were Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican of that committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that oversees U.S. foreign assistance.
A spokesman for Lowey, Matt Dennis, said Lowey had been briefed on the administration's position on Wednesday but that she had not made a decision on lifting her hold.
"She appreciates the administration'sefforts to keep apprised of findings, and the conversations will continue about the path forward," he said, adding, however that: "No resolution on this matter was reached. Her hold remains in place."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the review had been finished but would not comment on its classified findings, particularly about Hezbollah's alleged influence in the Lebanese army.
At the same time, he noted thatU.S. aid to Lebanon is specifically intended to build strong national institutions in Lebanon which act as a counterweight to Hezbollah.
Fears of Hezbollah influence in the army came to a head in early August when Lebanese soldiers near the Israeli border opened fire on Israeli troops, sparking a clash that killed two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and a senior Israeli officer.
Ros-Lehtinen, whoseoffice said she had not yet been briefed on the review, said in a statement that she remained "deeply concerned that U.S. assistance to the [Lebanese army] may be finding its way into the hands of violent militants, including Hezbollah, which murder innocent Israelis."
"The U.S. must notcontinue to send security assistance to Lebanon when we cannot be sure that it is not benefiting these dangerous extremists and their state sponsors," she said.