Oct 30, 2019

Israel asked U.S. to condition Lebanon aid on Hezbollah missile factory shutdown

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Israel asked the U.S. and other Western countries to condition aid to Lebanon on its government's action against Hezbollah's precision missiles project, Israeli officials told me.

Why it matters: The U.S. has had a close relationship with the Lebanese government for many years, prompting a debate inside the Trump administration on whether aid should be frozen.

  • Much of the U.S. aid to Lebanon goes toward funding the Lebanese army. Over the last year, the U.S. military aid to Lebanon topped $100 million in addition to civilian financial assistance.
  • Many in the White House support freezing the aid, but the State Department and the Pentagon think it should continue.
  • The officials said the Israeli requests regarding the aid began before the latest protests in Lebanon — adding that Israel doesn't want to get involved in those domestic issues.

The big picture: Israel is concerned by the funding of Lebanon's army, claiming it is infiltrated by Hezbollah. It argues that aid could benefit the interests of the Shiite terror organization.

The state of play: Israeli officials told me that several weeks ago its foreign ministry ordered Israeli ambassadors in several capitals, including Washington, to convey messages to decision makers on the topic.

  • That argument centered on stopping aid to Lebanon as long as Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government — and as long as the government doesn't act to shut down the organization’s covert precision missile factories.
  • Israel is very concerned that Hezbollah will develop an industrial capacity of manufacturing precision missiles, which could pose a significant threat to its military bases and strategic sites.
  • The Israeli officials stressed that there is close coordination with the Trump administration on curbing Hezbollah's funding, prompting the Treasury Department to sanction several individuals and companies connected to Hezbollah's financial system.

Go deeper: Pompeo warned Lebanon about covert Hezbollah missile factory

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U.S. official rejects Israeli demands on aid for Lebanese army

Photo: Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images

A senior State Department official has rejected Israeli criticism regarding U.S. assistance to the Lebanese armed forces, as well as the Israeli demand to condition the aid on the Lebanese government acting against Hezbollah’s precision missile factories.

Why it matters: The U.S. gives the Lebanese army around $105 million a year and supports it with training and equipment. Israel is concerned that the Lebanese army is infiltrated by Hezbollah and that any U.S. assistance to the Lebanese army will end up in the terror organization’s hands.

Go deeperArrowNov 13, 2019

Lebanon's economy on the brink as protests unite sectarian camps

Demonstrators in Beirut's Martyr's Square on Nov. 22. Photo: Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images

As Lebanon continues to be rocked by widespread protests — seemingly sparked in mid-October by uncontrolled wildfires and a proposed WhatsApp tax — the country faces increasing risk of economic collapse.

The big picture: The current crisis has been brewing for some time, and a descent into conflict is not out of the question. Lebanon has been an ally to the U.S. and Europe in its troubled neighborhood, but is struggling under threats from Iran-controlled Hezbollah, interference by Russia and China, and the world's highest proportion of refugees.

Go deeperArrowNov 25, 2019

Trump told officials that Netanyahu should pay security aid to Palestinians

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Several months ago, President Trump rejected a request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow U.S. aid to be transferred to Palestinian security forces and told aides that Netanyahu should pay for it, U.S. officials told me.

Why it matters: In the last two years, the Trump administration has gradually cut all funding to the Palestinians, with the latest cut taking place at the end of January. One of the key players in encouraging the funding cut was Netanyahu.

Go deeperArrowNov 6, 2019