Beirut daily: Israel wants US to halt aid until Lebanon deals with tunnels

Israel’s prime minister wants America to turn the screws on Beirut to help deal with the Hezbollah tunnel issue.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Citing unnamed Western diplomatic sources, the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar daily reported Tuesday that Jerusalem requested from the Trump administration to pressure Lebanon into dealing with Hezbollah’s tunnel threat by threatening to withhold tens of millions in U.S. aid.

According to the report, Israel wants the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to partner with the U.N. force on the border to locate and demolish the sections of tunnel that stretch within Lebanese territory.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, said Monday that the tunnels violate U.N. Resolution 1701 but that dealing with the tunnels is “beyond its mandate,” passing responsibility on to the Lebanese government.

Lebanese state media outlet National News Agency said Prime Minister Saad Hariri wouldn’t commit to destroying the tunnels, only saying that Lebanon would “conduct patrols to deal with any flaw in the implementation of Resolution 1701 from the Lebanese side.”

The U.S. has supplied Lebanon with well over a billion dollars in military aid since 2006, with $123 million of it in fiscal year 2017 alone. This has paid for dozens of sophisticated Bradley Fighting Vehicles and armored Humvees, thousands of guns, hundreds of night vision devices and secure communication radios, and intensive training of its armed forces.

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America considers Lebanon an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism, despite the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group and its allies winning more than half the seats in the country’s parliament in May, and the longstanding U.S. designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The U.S. also rejects Israel’s assertion that Hezbollah has fully infiltrated the Lebanese army, with a Pentagon spokeswoman telling Reuters after the May elections that the LAF is “the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly rejected Netanyahu’s request for sanctions on Lebanon and its army to pressure them over the  terror tunnels when the two met in Brussels before the start of Operation Northern Shield earlier this month. Pompeo agreed to discuss sanctions on Hezbollah alone.

On Dec. 4, the Israeli Defense Forces began uncovering Hezbollah tunnels on the Israeli side of the border, but has been careful not to violate Lebanese sovereignty in the process. The operation may continue for months.