An adviser to Lebanon's prime minister said Tuesday that Washington's suspension of military aid to the Arab nation is unwarranted and weakens efforts to build the country's army.
The U.S.'s decision to halt the funding was announced after the Lebanese army fired at Israeli troops on the border last week, killing senior Israel Defense Forces officer Dov Harari and seriously wounding another officer, Ezra Lakia.
For years, the U.S. has pumped money into Lebanon's military, hoping a strengthened army would extend state authority across the country and sideline Hezbollah.
"The last thing that the U.S. or any other friend of Lebanon should do is to weaken the effort to build up our national army," said Mohammed Chatah, an adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, adding that government officials were contacting Washington to make sure that there is a better and fuller understanding of the situation in Lebanon and along the border.
The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday that he placed a hold on $100 million in assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces over concerns that the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah may have influence over the army.
Chatah said Tuesday that the Lebanese forces were reliable. He said that any friend of Lebanon should not take steps that would hurt efforts to build up the army.
The cutoff renewed focus on the unusual power dynamics in Lebanon, where Hezbollah's militia is the country's most powerful military force, with an arsenal that far outweighs that of the Western-backed national army. The power balance has long worried the U.S. and close ally Israel.
The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, said Monday he suspended the assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces on August 2. He said the deadly gunbattle between Israeli and Lebanese forces along their border last week - a day after the aid was suspended - reinforced his decision.
Though Lebanese officials and Hezbollah insisted the Shiite militant group was not involved, some critics in Israel and the U.S. are charging that Hezbollah may have infiltrated the army.
On the same day Congress announced its suspension in aid, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley defended the assistance.
"We have an extensive military cooperation program with Lebanon because it's in our interest to have that program," he 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".
Crowley said he was not aware of plans to reevaluate U.S. military cooperation with Lebanon. However it is not unusual for members of Congress and the administration to differ on foreign policy issues.
Berman, a Democrat from California, said the border clash had heightened his concerns about the aid.
"Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hezbollah influence on the [Lebanese army] - and can assure that the [Lebanese army] is a responsible actor - I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon," he said Monday.
The Aug. 3 clash killed two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and an Israeli officer. The State Department said there was no evidence American-supplied equipment had been used by Lebanese soldiers, and that it was not yet clear whether the soldiers involved had received U.S. military training.
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