He blasted calls to suspend aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which have intensified since January when Hezbollah and its legislative allies toppled the country’s unity government and nominated their handpicked candidate for prime minister.
“Even if we looked at it from the angle of the American administration, if they do stop the assistance, it would be the best-ever gift given to Hezbollah and the Iranians,” Mr. Siniora told The Washington Times.
“Assisting the Lebanese army is assisting the legitimate authority of the Lebanese state.”
“Hezbollah is not short of additional weapons,” he said.
Elliott Abrams, then a deputy national security adviser, told The Times that the Bush administration’s goal was to make the army a “counter to the growing strength of Hezbollah,” which controls large swaths of Lebanon’s south and the capital Beirut.
Rep. Howard L. Berman of California, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blocked $100 million in aid to the Lebanese army in August pending an administration review of Hezbollah’s influence within the military.
He is pushing legislation to limit U.S. aid to Lebanon until the president certifies that “no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Lebanese government that receives American foreign assistance is effectively controlled by Hezbollah.”
The prospect of an American void has prompted repeated Iranian offers to arm the Lebanese military, according to a Lebanese source close to the discussions.
During Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s October visit to Lebanon and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s November visit to Iran, the Iranians prodded the Lebanese to accept aid from Tehran.
The Iranians said they considered Lebanon “the first line of defense against the Zionist entity.” The source said the Lebanese side spurned the overture, citing its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March that the United States will decide on future aid to the Lebanese army after Nijab Mikati, the Hezbollah-backed candidate for prime minister, forms a government.
“Naturally, we think that funding should be given to those who are committed to observing the tranquility and the stability, and with the ongoing effort to build the government in Lebanon, it’s not totally clear where this army’s going,” the official said. “If Hezbollah has major positions, that’s problematic.”
While Hezbollah did not actively participate in the 2006 fighting between Israel and Lebanon, some fear it could be drawn into a new cross-border conflict, particularly after a deadly border skirmish last August between Israeli and Lebanese forces.
“The army is supposed, in fact, to defend the country. And wherever a decision is taken by the political authority, yes, to really face the challenge of any attack by Israel, yes, the army has to do it,” he said.
Asked about the concern that the U.S. could find itself arming two sides in a war, Mr. Siniora laughed: “Don’t arm the Israeli army,” he said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.
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