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Trump Administration Quietly Releases Lebanon Military Aid

05 December 2019

The Donald Trump administration has lifted a hold on $105 million in security assistance to Lebanon after failing to explain the delay in military aid that could date as far back as June.

The money had been on hold without explanation at the Office of Management and Budget since September.

The aid was released right before Thanksgiving, and lawmakers were notified on Monday, two congressional staffers and an administration official told The Associated Press.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recently traveled to Lebanon, said there was "no legitimate security rationale to withhold funding".

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Some pro-Israel members of Congress have sought to defund the Lebanese military, arguing that it has been compromised by Hezbollah, which the US designates as a "foreign terrorist organization". Reuters was the first outlet to report on the administration's decision to release the hold.

Congress was informed on October 31, by the U.S. State Department, about the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council's decision to hold up funds over $100 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation. However, unlike Ukraine, there has been no suggestion that President Donald Trump is seeking "a favor" from Lebanon in exchange for the aid, according to officials familiar with the matter.

However, a senior State Department official confirmed that the money had been released but declined to provide an explanation for why it was suspended or why it was released, beyond referring to recent comments by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, Reuters reported.

"I learned from a member of my staff, I believe, and the aid package to Lebanon was also being held in the same fashion", Hale said.

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There has been no allegation that Trump stopped the Lebanon assistance for personal political gain, the central allegation in his delay of $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

In this context, another former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month warned of the potential benefits to Iran and Russian Federation from withholding the military funding to Lebanon. "Our assistance is crucial to help Lebanon counter Iran-backed Hezbollah and other groups threatening the region", Deutch wrote on Twitter.

"The military assistance now under review should be rapidly released", Feltman said to House lawmakers last month.

On Monday, the senior State official said on a conference call with reporters that Lebanon's army is "an excellent partner to the United States" in fighting extremism.

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Trump Administration Quietly Releases Lebanon Military Aid