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Trump’s Curious Freeze, Then Release of Military Aid to Lebanon

Officials won't comment on who or why these decisions were made at the height of protests there.

YARZEH ,LEBANON, Nov. 22, 2019 -- Soldiers take part in a military parade at the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh, southeast of Beirut, Lebanon, on Nov. 22, 2019. Lebanon's top officials celebrated on Friday the country's Independence Day at the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh, the National News Agency reported. (Photo from Dalati & Nohra/Xinhua via Getty)

A $105 million security assistance package to Lebanon to support the Lebanese Armed Forces will be delivered, with no explanation as to why the aid was held up.

State Department officials refused to comment on the reason for the freeze, why it had been put in place, why it had been lifted, or who made these decisions. A senior State Department official told CNN the hold was due to “process” and that they would like to comment, but could not.

The aid had been authorized by Congress and received the backing of Trump’s State Department, Pentagon, and officials on the White House National Security Council.

While the reason for the hold is unclear, it is known that the delay came from the Office of Management and Budget office, which delayed releasing the funds for months.

“The bottom line is simple: (1) in a way this is Ukraine again – it’s not legal for Trump to hold funding that Congress authorized,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut. “There was no legitimate security rationale to withhold funding, and lots of reasons why withholding aid would actually hurt US interests. But the administration alarmingly decided to delay these funds without explanation and did so at the worst possible time. In contrast to the violent response to other protests sweeping the region, the [Lebanese Armed Forces have] stepped up to protect demonstrators and defend the democratic rights of Lebanese citizens. They deserve our respect and strong support at this critical moment.”

The military assistance is meant to help the country counter Iran by covering the costs of US-made military equipment supplied to the Lebanese army.
The decision on when to release Lebanese aid rests with OMB, and there were “differences in opinion” between OMB and Trump’s national security officials on the importance of funding the LAF, David Hale, a senior State Department official told Congress during the Ukraine impeachment inquiry.
While lawmakers and State Department officials say they’ve been given no explanation for the mysterious aid delay,  some in Washington speculate that the holdup may have been linked to the case of Amer Fakhoury, an American citizen detained in Lebanon.
The two issues have been “periodically” linked in the past, a Senior State Department official told CNN.
The freeze may also have come at the request of certain pro-Israel lawmakers, who believe the Lebanese military has close ties with Hezbollah.
Despite numerous requests for comment, OMB officials remain mum.

about the author

Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is a graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.  Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.

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