Congress

Lee Zeldin challenges Hezbollah, targets aid to Lebanon

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) speaks at the U.S. Institute of Peace in May, 2019. (Flickr)

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will introduce a bill this week conditioning military aid to Lebanon in an effort to combat Hezbollah’s influence in the country.

What’s going on: Zeldin, who is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, is introducing the “Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act of 2019,” which applies conditions to 20 percent of American military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). To comply, it must show that the government and military are working to limit Hezbollah’s role in the Lebanese army, with the U.S. secretaries of state and defense expected to “actively engage” in discussions to keep officials from the terrorist organization out of key leadership roles in the military.

The legislation cites the known extent of Hezbollah’s influence in the LAF but also the LAF’s efforts to disarm the terrorist organization along the border with Israel. A national security waiver in included to provide flexibility in extenuating circumstances.

Why it matters: The U.S. has provided at least $2.29 billion in military assistance to the LAF since 2005, calling the country’s military the “sole, legitimate defender of Lebanon.” The legislation, however, is a rebuke of Hezbollah’s influence in the country and aggression towards Israel. At least six cross-border tunnels from Southern Lebanon into Israel were discovered by the Israeli Defense Forces, with the U.N. peacekeepers confirming at least three.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said the tunnels violate the 2006 ceasefire agreement between Lebanon and Israel, and said it took the matter to the Lebanese government.

What’s next: It’s unclear if the legislation will attract any Democratic co-sponsors, which would push along the bill in the Democrat-controlled House.