Haaretz (Link) - AP & Natasha Mozgovaya (August 11, 2010)
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr said Wednesday he would reject any U.S. military assistance to Lebanon’s army if it comes with conditions that the weapons not be used against Israel.
Murr was commenting Wednesday on a decision by U.S. lawmakers to suspend $100 million in aid over concerns the weapons could be turned on Israel and that Hezbollah may have influence over the Lebanese army.
Murr said those who want to help the Lebanese army but place conditions on how their funds or weapons are used, should keep the money.
He also said a Lebanese soldier who opened fire across the border with Israel earlier in August was acting on orders. The clash killed two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and an Israel Defense Forces officer.
In response to the remarks, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley rejected the claim that the United States was halting military ties with Lebanon and said that the country is committed to its relationship with Lebanon, but has conditions for its assistance.
“We continue to believe that investing in Lebanon’s government and investing in Lebanon’s military serves as a stabilizing influence and expands and strengthens Lebanon’s sovereignty,” Crowley said during a press conference.
He added that “we place conditions on how our military aid is delivered, and there are similar conditions in terms of how Israel is able to use the assistance we provide them.”
“Nothing that we do is condition-free,” he said, adding that “obviously we think that the nature of our training programs, the nature of the equipment that we do provide to Lebanon is in our interest, and in Lebanon’s interest. And this is a relationship that we hope to strengthen.”
A top aide to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri harshly criticized a decision by the U.S. Congress to freeze military aid to Beirut in response to the clash on the Israel-Lebanon border.
The adviser, Mohamed Chatah, said Tuesday the aid suspension is unjustified and weakens the government’s efforts to build the Lebanese Army.
One week after the incident on the Israel-Lebanon border that killed Lt. Col. (res. ) Dov Harari, the chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, announced that Washington would freeze $100 million in assistance earmarked for the Lebanese military.
Berman said Washington needs to closely examine “reported Hezbollah influence” on the Lebanese armed forces before it resumes providing financial aid.
“Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hezbollah influence on the LAF [Lebanese armed forces] - and can assure that the LAF is a responsible actor - I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon,” Berman said.
The congressman noted that the decision to halt aid was taken before the shooting incident, which only highlighted the need to better supervise the way money is being used.
The United States said it has seen no evidence indicating that American weapons were used by Lebanese soldiers in the cross-border incident.
According to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, Washington has no intention of re-evaluating its military relationship with Lebanon despite calls from Israel to do so.
“[U.S. financial aid to the army] allows the government of Lebanon to expand its sovereignty,” Crowley said. “We think that is in the interest of both of our countries and regional stability as a whole.”
The Lebanese Army is seen as woefully under-equipped compared to Hezbollah, which is believed to have been rearming since its 2006 war with Israel. The military lost 170 troops when battling an Al-Qaida-inspired Islamist group holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in 2007.