U.S. freezes weapons shipments to Lebanon’s military


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United States has frozen weapons shipments to Lebanon’s military following the collapse of the Arab country’s government in January.

The arms freeze had been approved recently by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but it was not  announced publicly so as not to interfere with the formation of a new government, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The freeze reportedly came amid concern that Hezbollah would emerge from the popular revolt stronger than ever following the fall of Lebanon’s pro-Western government.

Unnamed defense officials quoted by The Wall Street Journal said that the United States continues to provide training and non-lethal assistance to the Lebanese military.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner during a news briefing later Monday would only say the assistance "continued" when asked about the report, but he would not comment on specific shipments.

The U.S. has provided more than $720 million in support to the Lebanese military since 2006, according to the newspaper. A senior defense official is quoted as saying that the Pentagon is now reviewing all U.S. security assistance to the Lebanese military "during this period of government formation."

The newspaper cited congressional aides as saying that legislation is likely to be introduced in the coming weeks to cut off assistance if the next Lebanese government is dominated by Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

Hezbollah-backed billionaire Najib Mikati was selected as the country’s new prime minister in January. His predecessor, Saad Hariri, had been backed by the Western powers.

Israel released an intelligence map last week showing hundreds of Hezbollah bunkers in southern Lebanon.

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