This bill reflects longstanding concern in Congress over U.S. assistance to Lebanon which increased greatly following an 8/3/10 border incident in which the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Army exchanged fire leaving one Israeli and two Lebanese soldiers dead.
Members feared that further U.S. assistance to the Lebanese army and security forces could be used against Israel, as in the 8/3 incident and/or fall into the hands of Hizballah. The latter concern was heightened following Hizballah’s withdrawal from the government of PM Saad Hariri on 1/12/11 which resulted in the formation of a new government over which the group held greater influence. Notably, Berman gained the support of three Lebanese-American representatives for the bill, Darrell Issa (R-CA), Charles Boustany (R-LA), and Nick Rahall (D-WV).
Berman, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Committee on Foreign Affairs (HCFA) introduced this bill as a compromise measure that would allow some aid to flow to Lebanon instead of a blanket measure cutting all funding to Lebanon if Hizballah participated in the government. The latter course was favored by HCFA chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) who included language in H.R. 2583 of 7/19/11, below, which sought to cut all funding to Lebanon.
The bill would declare the policy of the U.S. to be to promote Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; oppose any group that uses Lebanon as a base to attack Lebanese citizens, the U.S., the West, and Israel; promote democracy, the rule of law, the cessation of terrorism and incitement; and urge members of the international community to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting Hizballah until it disarms and renounces violence.
Restrictions on U.S. assistance to Lebanon: More substantively, the bill would greatly restrict U.S. assistance to the Lebanese government and to non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) working in Lebanon:
For the government of Lebanon:
Would prohibit U.S. assistance to a Hizballah-dependent government, which is defined as any coalition government in which Hizballah is the majority element, ‘the architect or primary forger’ of the coalition, or in which the coalition depends on Hizballah from outside that government for its parliamentary majority. The prohibition would also apply to unspent funds for Lebanon already provided to the president by Congress.
In the event that Hizballah is a minority element in a governing coalition, U.S. funding would be prohibited to any ministry, agency, or instrumentality run or effectively controlled by members of Hezbollah.
Funding for humanitarian assistance, democracy promotion, disarmament programs, training for the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Lebanese educational institutions, however, would be exempt from the prohibition.
The president would be permitted to resume aid if he certifies to Congress that 1) Hizballah has ceased support for terrorism, renounced violence, and disarmed; or 2) the Lebanese government has made progress toward dismantling Hizballah infrastructure in Lebanon, arresting wanted Hizballah terrorists, ending the flow of arms and terrorism-related equipment to Hizballah, destroying Hizballah arms factories, thwarting and preempting terrorist attacks, and full cooperation with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. The president must recertify to Congress within 90 days and every six months thereafter that these conditions are continuing to be met.
If the Lebanese government fails to meet these conditions the president may waive the prohibition on a case-by-case basis if he ‘determines and certifies in writing’ that it is in the vital national security interests of the U.S. to do so, and submits a report to Congress describing the reasons for the waiver, the reasons he cannot certify Lebanese compliance with the above conditions, and a description of the potential impact of the waiver on U.S. regional interests.