The US Congress has put an indefinite hold on $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon after what congressional leaders termed an "outrageous incident" when Lebanese forces opened fire on Israeli troops conducting routine border maintenance last week.
An Israeli commander was killed and one of his deputies was seriously wounded by Lebanese army snipers while pruning a tree that was disrupting the Israeli border security fence. Two Lebanese soldiers were killed when the Israelis returned fire.
The UN confirmed that the Israelis and the tree in question were on the Israeli side of the UN-demarcated Blue Line that acts as the de facto border. Lebanon said it disputes that part of the Blue Line and considers the area to be Lebanese territory, thus justifying the unprovoked attack.
US Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee, told The Jerusalem Post that the deadly confrontation was "tragic and entirely avoidable." Lowey said that US military aid "is intended to enhance our safety and that of our allies," and will not be given to Lebanon if it uses the assistance to threaten another US ally.
Congress also wants to find out just how closely the Lebanese army is working with the Hizballah terrorist militia, which largely controls southern Lebanon and enjoys veto power in the Lebanese government.
The $100 million in aid was earmarked for 2010, but had not yet been paid out. Sources on Capitol Hill said whether or not the funds are released depends largely on Lebanon's response to the incident.
Days after the attack, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman visited the site of the border clash and praised Lebanese troops for their "heroic act" of foiling "Israeli aggression." Suleiman suggested that if the US did not like the way it behaves, Lebanon would look for other countries to supply it with arms and military aid.