US struggles to sideline Hezbollah in Lebanon


The United States is struggling to sideline Hezbollah without further splintering faction-ridden Lebanon.

Lebanon's Lobbying Efforts


State Dept aid request up 40% in two years


US banking sanctions spark Hezbollah backlash


Congress approves $1 B in arms sales


Saudi aid retraction could impact US arms sales


US provides $1.2 B to cope with Syrian refugees


Congress loses patience with political gridlock

Congress and the Barack Obama administration have adopted a dual strategy of trying to starve the Shiite militia of funds while bankrolling state institutions they hope can provide a US-friendly counterweight. To that end, the president signed into law new financial sanctions on Hezbollah in December, while Congress and the State Department have been steadily increasing economic and security support for the Lebanese government and its police and military forces.

Neither approach is without risk.

Lebanese lawmakers and banking officials have made it clear that undermining the country’s vital financial sector would be devastating to a country already reeling from the crisis in next-door Syria. A parliamentary delegation visited Washington in February to urge restraint, while the powerful Association of Banks in Lebanon is spending more than half a million dollars a year lobbying Congress and the State and Treasury Departments on the issue.

"We told those that we met with that any potential damage to our banking sector, or any restrictions on those remittances — which amount to about $7.5 billion per year — would lead to a financial and economic disaster in Lebanon that would turn into a security catastrophe and a total collapse of the Lebanese state,” parliament member Alain Aoun told Al-Monitor at the time. The Treasury Department issued its regulations implementing the law on April 15, without causing a panic in Beirut.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has nixed a $3 billion military aid grant and what remained of a separate $1 billion commitment to Lebanon’s internal security force to protest Hezbollah’s continued political clout. The move earned a rebuke from the State Department.

“Our point to [the Saudis] is if the ultimate objective here is to limit the ability of Hezbollah to do what it’s doing, the solution is to invest in Lebanese institutions and not to withdraw support from them at this critical time,” US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard testified at her nomination hearing in March.

The Saudi stance does have some sympathizers on Capitol Hill, however. Pro-Israel hardliners have long questioned the wisdom of providing difficult-to-track assistance to a country where a US-designated terrorist group retains major influence.

“It is apparent that Hezbollah has managed to gain sufficient influence in Lebanon to hinder its relationships with its Arab neighbors,” House Foreign Affairs Middle East panel chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in her opening remarks at an April hearing on Lebanon. “This synergy between the Lebanese Armed Forces [LAF] and Hezbollah should really call into question, then, the administration’s continued support for the LAF.”

Further muddying the waters, billionaire former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is back in Lebanon after spending years in Saudi Arabia, prompting speculation that he could soon spearhead a Sunni confrontation with Hezbollah. Hariri’s Millennium Group spends about $85,000 a year on US lobbying on behalf of the Hariri-linked Future Movement, and organized a slew of meetings between the political party’s secretary general, Ahmad Hariri (Saad’s cousin), and US lawmakers and State and White House officials in February.

For now, Congress and the administration appear to agree that shoring up Beirut economically and militarily remains the best alternative.

The State Department is seeking $234 million in bilateral aid for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, an increase of 11% over the current year and 40% over FY 2015 State Department spending. More than half of that is for military and security assistance, and does not include Department of Defense Counterterrorism Partnership Funding ($48 million in FY 2015).

“US assistance to Lebanon aims both to ‘insulate’ Lebanon from the effects of the Syrian conflict and to support domestic objectives, including the strengthening of institutions, support for civil society and the bolstering of security services,” the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) writes in its report on the appropriations request for FY 2017.

In addition, the State Department has provided $1.2 billion since FY 2012 — including $217 million so far this year — to help Lebanon cope with the influx of more than 1 million Syrian refugees. That’s 50% more than Jordan, the second-highest recipient of US humanitarian aid for Syrians.

Congress has also signed off on more than $1 billion in proposed arms sales over the past couple of years, including light attack aircraft and Huey helicopters. Those aircraft — six Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos worth $462 million, including equipment, parts and logistical support — were supposed to be paid for at least in part with the $1 billion Saudi grant that was abandoned prematurely, raising doubts as to their eventual delivery.

Administration officials told POMED earlier this year that they were “still working through the implications” of the Saudi announcement. However, the trade publication FlightGlobal reported last month that production is underway on the first Super Tucanos for the Lebanese air force, with delivery to start at the beginning of 2017.

Lebanese Embassy

Charge d’Affaires ad interim: Carla Jazzar

Association of Banks in Lebanon
    DLA Piper
    (lobby firm)
    • 2015 fees: $570,000
    • Hired: Sept. 2012
    • Latest filing
    • Registered lobbyists
      • Michael Castle
      • Nathaniel Bell
      • Lawrence Levinson
      • Richard Newcomb
      • Margaret Civetta
      • Berge Setrakian
MEAB (Middle East & Africa Bank)
    Squire Patton Boggs
    (lobby firm)
    • 2015 fees: $50,000
    • Hired: 2013
    • Latest filing
    • Registered lobbyists
      • Gassan Baloul
      • Bret Boyles
      • Joseph LeBaron
        Former Ambassador to Qatar
      • Erin McGrain
      • Stephen McHale

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