The Trump administration is seeking to slash military aid to Lebanon by 82 percent next year, according to the State Department’s 2018 budget plan.
Last year, the U.S. provided $103 million in military aid – weapons, equipment and training – to Beirut. The 2018 budget projects about $19 million in anticipated aid.
According to the State Department, the cuts would include the cessation of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which amounted to about $86 million in 2016.
The move signals a potentially stronger stance by the Trump administration against Lebanon, and a change of direction in the unofficial U.S-Lebanon partnership against ISIS.
The Lebanese military has been a key force against ISIS in northeastern Lebanon, and an ally to the U.S. in the fight against militants.
Lebanese Army officials are positioned strategically to closely monitor ISIS movements in the remote mountains of Arsal, where an estimated 500 militants are masked between the Lebanon-Syria border.
Much of Lebanon’s ability to confront ISIS, analysts say, is owed to the support of foreign countries, including the United States. Since 2005, the U.S. has provided more than $1.4 billion in military aid to the country.
But the assistance could soon be slashed, according to the Trump administration’s latest budget plan. Some Middle East analysts believe the Lebanese Army’s ties to Hezbollah may have played a role in 2018 funding plans.
President Trump has pledged to get tough on Iran and its proxies throughout the region.
Tony Badran, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, told the Christian Science Monitor that the U.S. has good reason “to worry about the army’s ties to Hezbollah.”
“There are still some people out there who buy the argument of Lebanon as a good partner – especially at [the Pentagon] – and some are still convinced by the obsolete notion of the Lebanese standing up to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” he told CS Monitor.
Besides military cuts, the Trump administration is also proposing about 23 percent of cuts to economic and developmental aid to Lebanon.
Last year, Lebanon received $110 million in economic assistance. The 2018 budget projects about $85 million.
The budget cuts would also hit several other vulnerable countries, including Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen.
President Trump and Prime Minister Saad Hariri are expected to discuss these proposed cuts during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday.