Amid recent statements by both Iranian and Hezbollah leaders accusing the United States of hijacking the massive anti-corruption protests which have gridlocked Lebanon for over the past two weeks, the White House has made the dramatic and unexpected move of freezing US military aid to the Lebanese Army.
The money, part of a military aid package totaling $105 million, had been approved by Congress and the State Department, and requested by the Pentagon. Interestingly, proponents of the package argued that it would allow the Lebanese Army to grow more independent, making it less cooperative with Hezbollah.
According to Reuters the aid was frozen two days following Tuesday's resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who in a parting speech admitted he'd "reached a dead end" amid the protests which have reportedly involved one million people, or up to 25% of Lebanon's total population, and further called on "all Lebanese to protect civil peace".
The United States, said the report, has frequently voiced "concern over the growing role in the Beirut government of Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite group backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week called on Beirut to take steps for a new unified government which focused on rooting out endemic corruption.
Though no specific reason was given as to why the White House has targeted Lebanon for an aid freeze, Trump has lately signaled his disdain for the amount of foreign aid Washington hands out around the world, seemingly with no strings attached.
On Friday, an Israeli media report revealed that officials in Tel Aviv had lobbied the White House to condition any US Lebanese aid based on the country removing advanced arms in possession of Hezbollah — something it should be noted that Lebanon's national forces are likely incapable of, given the Shia paramilitary organization is actually considered stronger.
The Foreign Ministry ordered Israeli diplomats “in all relevant countries,” including the US and European states, to emphasize the need to cease providing aid to Lebanon as long as the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror organization does not cease upgrading its military capabilities that could target Israel, the official added. — Times of Israel
“In discreet talks with various capitals, we made it clear that any aid meant to guarantee the stability of Lebanon needs to be conditioned on Lebanon dealing with Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles,” a senior official told The Times of Israel. “Anything short of that will be problematic, in our eyes.”
This could mark a big first step in Trump cutting of aid to 'dysfunctional' governments and/or governments made up of elements which are hostile to the United States, as is the case with the designated group Hezbollah.