Congress approved more than $100 million in U.S. military aid to Lebanon in September but the Trump administration won’t even tell Beirut the check is in the mail.
For reasons no one fully understands–yet–Trump is holding up payment in a move reminiscent of the delay in military aid to Ukraine which led to something going on in Washington, D.C., this month called an impeachment inquiry.
Ominously, the refusal (so far) to release the money to Lebanon could allow Russia, with its growing military influence in Syria, a way into Lebanon. Russia’s power in the area has intensified since Trump pulled U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria last month.
The U.S. military aid will reportedly pay for American-made military equipment for the Lebanese army.
The stonewalling is happening when Lebanon is enmeshed in its worst crisis since its bloody 1975-1990 civil war. Violent street protests have been going on since Oct. 17 over what many Lebanese see as a corrupt and incapable government. The U.S. military aid will reportedly pay for 88 American-made military equipment for the Lebanese army.
“The country is like a ship that is sinking little by little,” Nabih Berri, speaker of the Parliament said last week, according to Al Jazeera. “If we don’t take the necessary steps, it will sink entirely.”
Buried in Impeachment Testimony
The aid holdup was first reported by Reuters last month. The Associated Press discovered more about the mystery involving Trump’s apparent refusal to pony up the money to Lebanon when reading testimony from David Hale, the No. 3 official in the State Department in a transcript of the closed-door impeachment hearing that came out this week.
Hale said that diplomats were increasingly concerned both that Trump was not releasing the aid nor giving an explanation for the hold-up.
“People started asking, ‘What’s the problem,” Hale testified, according to the AP.
In official lingo, the funds for Lebanon have been apportioned, which means they’ve been appropriated by Congress and scheduled for release by the administration but remain in a purgatory.
The AP said five officials “familiar with the matter” said there’s no indication Trump is seeking any favors from the Lebanese government in releasing the funds to Lebanon, as he is being investigated for doing in Ukraine.
Hezbollah Missile Factory
A hint as to the back story behind the delay surfaced in late October when Israeli reporter Barak Ravid said Israel asked the United States to make the shutdown of a Hezbollah missile factory a condition of giving the country military aid. The United States has designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Lebanese government during his visit to Beirut last spring that Iran and Hezbollah might have built a new covert factory for precision missiles on Lebanese soil. His intelligence came from Israel.
To confuse things more, Trump on Thursday told Lebanese President Michel Aoun in a cable that the United States supported the new Lebanese government and wanted to work with it, Reuters reported.
Though the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council all support the military aid to Lebanon, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has yet to sign off on it and won’t explain why. The department was similarly silent about the delay in releasing funds to Ukraine.
The AP said that National Security Council staff “had deliberately tried to run an end-around of the Pentagon and State Department” by asking for a signed presidential determination to release the aid and then slow walking receipt of the finding to Trump.
“It’s beyond the pale,” said one official, according to the AP. “This is people at the NSC and OMB trying to insert their own personal ideologies into something that most everyone else supports as a national security interest.”