U.S. Congressman Urges France to Rethink Missile Sale to Lebanon

Representative Steve Rothman tells Sarkozy that 'the stakes are too high' for such a deal, considering the 'grave danger' that the anti-tank missiles will be used against Israel.

U.S. Representative Steve Rothman has urged France to rethink its plans to sell anti-tank missiles to Lebanon, stipulating that the volatile situation in that country meant that it would put Israel into "grave danger."

In a letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Democratic congressman wrote: "As you know, Lebanon is in a precarious situation whereby Hezbollah is in a powerful position to usurp the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

Location of clash on Israel-Lebanon border on August 3, 2010.
AP / Lutfallah Daher

"If this were to occur, Israel would be in grave danger of having your anti-tank missiles used against her. I agree in principle that strengthening the LAF against Hezbollah is an important goal, but I believe that providing the LAF with anti-tank missiles is neither helpful nor necessary in that regard," he wrote.

"The stakes are too high, and the danger this would pose to Israel is far too real. I therefore respectfully request that you reconsider this arms deal of anti-tank missiles and seek to aid the LAF in other ways," Rothman concluded.

Lebanon will receive 100 of the anti-tank missiles from France, a French official told AFP last week.

The French official told the news agency that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was informed in a letter by French Premier Francois Fillon about the decision to supply Lebanon's army with 100 anti-tank missiles, to be used by Lebanon's Gazelle helicopters.

According to the official, the missiles are to be delivered to Lebanon by the end of February, and France will provide the missiles to Lebanon without any preconditions.

The United States House of Representatives expressed in August its disapproval of the deal, claiming the missiles might be used against Israel, due to the rising influence of Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In August, an Israel Defense Forces reserve battalion commander was killed in fatal clashes between Israel and the Lebanese army along the border. Following the incident Israel launched a diplomatic campaign calling on the United States and France to stop their military assistance to Lebanon. The U.S. responded by withholding from Lebanon $100 million of military aid.

However, last month the U.S. renewed its military aid to Lebanon, after the Lebanese army had made a commitment to keep track of developments on the border and to prevent funds from reaching Hezbollah.

The United States has given Lebanon approximately $400 million over the past year to purchase arms, despite Israel's objections. France has also sent a great deal of weaponry to Lebanon, including advanced anti-tank missiles.