US President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued a memorandum intended to provide $ 47 million in aid to the cash-strapped Lebanese Armed Forces.
The memorandum orders Secretary of State Antony Blinken to initiate the necessary process to direct funds allocated by Congress to the Lebanese military, as rapid inflation continues to place most Lebanese soldiers below the poverty line.
Randa Slim, senior researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said The National that it expects most of the $ 47 million in aid to go to supply the Lebanese Armed Forces, freeing up funds for Beirut to increase soldiers’ salaries.
“The money that is in the [Lebanese Armed Forces] the budget for supplies will then be reallocated to salaries, ”said Ms. Slim. “But American money does not directly cover wages.”
Enlisted Lebanese soldiers currently receive the equivalent of less than $ 90 per month based on the current exchange rate, as the Lebanese pound continues to fall against the US dollar.
The UN Security Council urged peacekeepers to provide “non-lethal materiel” to the Lebanese military as well as increased international support when it extended its peacekeeping mandate last month .
Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Joseph Aoun said in July that the financial crisis could cause the army to collapse in a rare video address posted on Twitter.
“How can a soldier provide for a family with a salary that does not exceed $ 90?” Asked Mr. Aoun.
Brigadier General Youssef Haddad told CNBC in the same month that the military would need $ 90 million to $ 100 million over the next year to help soldiers meet their basic needs, predicting the military would be in “critical condition” by September.
According to the White House memorandum, Blinken is to inform Congress of the Biden administration’s intention to reprogram US government funding to aid the Lebanese military – a politically charged topic on Capitol Hill.
Several pro-Israel members of Congress ardently oppose US support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, citing Hezbollah’s role in government.
But State Department and Pentagon officials tend to view the Lebanese military as a critical anchor for stability in the region as well as a bulwark against Hezbollah.
Ms Slim said providing aid in the form of supplies to the Lebanese military, rather than direct military support, could help alleviate some of the backlash from Congress.
“This keeps us at a distance from giving money to salaries, on the understanding that the money provided by the United States to cover the supplies will be covered by an equivalent amount of that money, which should be reallocated from [Lebanese Armed Forces’] budget towards salaries, ”Ms. Slim said.
“But that doesn’t put the US government in the business of providing salary support.”
While pro-Israel hard-line supporters on Capitol Hill have systematically introduced legislation to restrict U.S. support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, this legislation has consistently failed to advance in previous sessions of Congress.
The House of Representatives passed its Foreign Aid Bill for Fiscal Year 2022 in July, which perpetuates a long-standing provision allowing the United States to continue providing aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The Biden administration has offered $ 160 million in foreign military funding for the Lebanese military for fiscal year 2022.
Even as the cut in wages led to a morale crisis in the military, Lebanese forces used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against protesters last month during protests marking the anniversary of the explosion of the port of Beirut last year.
The failure of Lebanese politicians to form a new government for more than a year means that Lebanon cannot pass the economic reforms necessary to unlock vital loans and support from the International Monetary Fund.
Meanwhile, the prices of consumer goods, food and fuel continue to skyrocket amid rapid inflation, fueling popular unrest against the Lebanese political elite.
“Insist on the conditioning of the future [International Monetary Fund] reform aid is what the United States and the entire donor community should embrace, ”said Ms. Slim. “Otherwise, the cycle of endless corruption will not be broken, and it will not help in the long run. “
“But then you have to couple that with increased humanitarian aid to help the Lebanese cope with the major impact on daily livelihoods.”
In the meantime, other countries have stepped in to provide limited support to Lebanon.
The Lebanese army announced on Monday that Jordan had provided it with 11 tons of military aid.
Beirut is also working on a deal with Syria, Jordan and Egypt to import electricity and gas across the three countries, as fuel shortages have resulted in frequent and long-lasting power shortages across Lebanon. .
And Iran bypassed the Lebanese interim government by sending two ships carrying fuel to Lebanon as part of a deal brokered by a businessman close to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed paramilitary group.
Updated: September 7, 2021, 9:10 PM