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Berman and friends unveil bill to cut foreign aid to Lebanon

The fight over foreign aid to Lebanon may be reaching a tipping point due to the formation of a new Lebanese government that is dominated by the terrorist organization Hezbollah and its allies. Congress has gone back and forth over whether to keep sending cash and equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), particularly following ...

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The fight over foreign aid to Lebanon may be reaching a tipping point due to the formation of a new Lebanese government that is dominated by the terrorist organization Hezbollah and its allies.

Congress has gone back and forth over whether to keep sending cash and equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), particularly following a clash between the Israeli army and the LAF along the Israel-Lebanon border in August 2010 that left five people dead. Now Howard Berman (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing a bill to end almost all U.S. assistance to Lebanon. He’s joined by the top Lebanese-Americans in Congress, including Darrell Issa (R-CA), Charles Boustany (R-LA), and Nick Rahall (D-WV). 

His bill, the Hezbollah Anti-Terrorism Act (HATA), is modeled on Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (PATA) that Congress passed after Hamas won the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

"When there is essentially a government in Lebanon where a militia organization that has a political front and that is on our terrorist list is determining the nature of that government, the fundamental nature of Lebanon changes very much, from an election-based democracy into a different kind of country," Berman said in a Friday afternoon interview with The Cable.

"Under those situations, with limited exceptions, I don’t think American taxpayers should be providing military or economic assistance to help Hezbollah maintain its grip on the government of Lebanon," he added.

Berman had put a hold on assistance to Lebanon last summer, but later allowed the money to go through because he wanted to strengthen the LAF in its internal struggle against Hezbollah. But now the situation is totally different and he won’t back off, he said.

"The notion that the LAF will remain an island of independence under a government that is dominated and welded together by Hezbollah is a very different proposition," he said.

Berman’s bill would still allow support for rule of law and democracy programs, educational funding, and even training of Lebanese forces in America under the IMET program. The president would also be able to waive restrictions in the law in cases that were deemed to be in the national security interests of the U.S.

His GOP counterpart, HFAC chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is generally supportive of the idea and is considering supporting the bill, Berman said.

But what about the notion that Iran will be more than happy to make up any deficit caused by the withdrawal of U.S. aid?

"Iran has been supplying Hezbollah for years. This is not a fear, this is a reality. We have to respond to this reality and I think this is the way to do it," Berman said.

He released a summary of the legislation, which could come up as a free-standing bill or as an amendment to a larger piece of legislation.

The fight over foreign aid to Lebanon may be reaching a tipping point due to the formation of a new Lebanese government that is dominated by the terrorist organization Hezbollah and its allies.

Congress has gone back and forth over whether to keep sending cash and equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), particularly following a clash between the Israeli army and the LAF along the Israel-Lebanon border in August 2010 that left five people dead. Now Howard Berman (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing a bill to end almost all U.S. assistance to Lebanon. He’s joined by the top Lebanese-Americans in Congress, including Darrell Issa (R-CA), Charles Boustany (R-LA), and Nick Rahall (D-WV). 

His bill, the Hezbollah Anti-Terrorism Act (HATA), is modeled on Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (PATA) that Congress passed after Hamas won the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

"When there is essentially a government in Lebanon where a militia organization that has a political front and that is on our terrorist list is determining the nature of that government, the fundamental nature of Lebanon changes very much, from an election-based democracy into a different kind of country," Berman said in a Friday afternoon interview with The Cable.

"Under those situations, with limited exceptions, I don’t think American taxpayers should be providing military or economic assistance to help Hezbollah maintain its grip on the government of Lebanon," he added.

Berman had put a hold on assistance to Lebanon last summer, but later allowed the money to go through because he wanted to strengthen the LAF in its internal struggle against Hezbollah. But now the situation is totally different and he won’t back off, he said.

"The notion that the LAF will remain an island of independence under a government that is dominated and welded together by Hezbollah is a very different proposition," he said.

Berman’s bill would still allow support for rule of law and democracy programs, educational funding, and even training of Lebanese forces in America under the IMET program. The president would also be able to waive restrictions in the law in cases that were deemed to be in the national security interests of the U.S.

His GOP counterpart, HFAC chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is generally supportive of the idea and is considering supporting the bill, Berman said.

But what about the notion that Iran will be more than happy to make up any deficit caused by the withdrawal of U.S. aid?

"Iran has been supplying Hezbollah for years. This is not a fear, this is a reality. We have to respond to this reality and I think this is the way to do it," Berman said.

He released a summary of the legislation, which could come up as a free-standing bill or as an amendment to a larger piece of legislation.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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