Just days before the Iranian-funded terror group Hezbollah waged a terrorist attack on Israel’s northern border, congressional Democrats gutted legislation that would have halted U.S. funding to the Lebanese military, which is almost entirely controlled by the terror group.
Congress has been working on legislation that would slash millions in American taxpayer funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which has long been under Hezbollah’s thumb. Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been pushing to cut this funding for some time, arguing that U.S. aid should not be sent to an institution known to conduct attacks against Israel on Iran’s behalf.
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While the original bill had bipartisan support in both chambers, House Democrats recently attached an amendment to their version of the legislation that nixed the funding cut. Other GOP amendments that would have strengthened the legislation and pushed the LAF to isolate Hezbollah from its forces were also struck down by the Democrat-led House.
The House last week passed a watered-down version of the bill that leaves the LAF funding fully intact. The wrangling over the legislation came just days before Hezbollah launched a foiled attack on Israel from southern Lebanon, where the LAF and international forces have been tasked with stopping such terror strikes. Republican congressional sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon accused House Democrats of standing in the way of a major reform effort that could have forced the LAF to eradicate Hezbollah from its ranks or face a cutoff in U.S. aid dollars.
U.S. funding to the LAF has been a flashpoint for some time. As Hezbollah increases its force presence on Israel’s northern border and stockpiles sophisticated Iranian-made arms, GOP leaders in Congress have pressured the Trump administration to take action. The State Department, like congressional Democrats, has championed the aid, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling the Free Beacon earlier this year that funding to the LAF remains a priority. Republicans, however, view the aid as a tool to force Lebanon into ridding itself of Hezbollah’s influence.
The Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act of 2019 was passed out of a House committee late last week without key portions that would have conditioned U.S. aid to the LAF, effectively barring it from receiving money until it cleanses its ranks of Hezbollah forces. Outgoing representative Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) sponsored an amendment to the bill striking all language that would have cut the LAF’s aid dollars. The final version now requires the State Department to issue a report detailing ways in which the United States can stop Hezbollah’s smuggling of arms along its border with Israel.
Republican amendments to the bill aimed at strengthening its language were blocked by Democrats, including a measure ordering the LAF to "directly confront terrorism and Hezbollah’s influence."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), a main sponsor of the legislation, told the Free Beacon that tweaks were made to the original language in order to ensure its passage through the Democrat-led House committee.
"It’s not the same draft as it was," Zeldin said. "We would love to see that draft as it is passed over in the Senate," where Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) is spearheading a companion version of the bill that includes cuts to the LAF’s funding. GOP lawmakers hope that this version will eventually be passed and used as the template for any bill that reaches a full vote in Congress.
"It’s one of those situations that as we get to the end of this current Congress … the only way a bill was going to move was to make a couple of tweaks," said Zeldin, who emphasized his support for "leveraging the foreign aid we’re sending to Lebanon as effectively as possible."
A senior Republican congressional source familiar with the backroom dealings over the legislation told the Free Beacon that Engel and his staff "bear personal responsibility for emboldening Hezbollah, just as it escalated attacks against Israel and sought to murder Israeli Jews. They chose this exact moment to signal that Democrats will keep money flowing no matter what happens."
Tony Badran, a Lebanon expert and research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Hezbollah’s recent attacks on Israel highlight the failure in America’s policy regarding the LAF.
"Hezbollah’s attempt to launch an attack on Israel from south Lebanon underscores a twin failure in Lebanon policy: unconditional support for the LAF and continued funding of the failed [United Nations] mission," Badran said. "This policy should be discarded. The U.S. should not be sending taxpayer dollars to the Hezbollah-run state in Lebanon, unconditionally underwriting the LAF, or funding a useless U.N. force."