Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

US President Donald Trump gestures after disembarking from Air Force One after landing at Stansted Airport, northeast of London. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

  • As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has lifted a mysterious “hold” on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.
As first reported by Reuters, the US State Department told Congress on Oct. 31 that the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council had decided to withhold $105 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.
As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld, some compared it with a similar decision from the administration to withhold nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine that also had been approved by Congress.
That decision has been at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Members of Congress and US diplomats had strongly opposed the move to withhold the aid to Beirut, saying it was crucial to support Lebanon’s military as it grappled with instability within the country and the region.
Congressional aides said on Monday the administration had still provided no explanation for the decision to withhold the money, which had been approved by Congress and the State Department.
They said the OMB released the hold last Wednesday and the administration had begun to “obligate” it, or finalize contracts for how it should be spent.
A senior State Department official confirmed that the money had been released but declined to provide an explanation for why it was suspended or why it was released, beyond referring to recent comments by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.
Hale said during congressional testimony that there had been some disagreements about the efficacy of US aid to the Lebanese armed forces.
On Monday, the senior State official said on a conference call with reporters that Lebanon’s army is “an excellent partner to the United States” in fighting extremism.
Lebanon also houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.


Iran says it’s defused 2nd cyberattack in less than a week

Updated 50 min 45 sec ago

Iran says it’s defused 2nd cyberattack in less than a week

  • Iranian minister said the hackers were tracked
  • The country disconnected much of its infrastructure from the Internet after the Stuxnet computer virus

TEHRAN: Iran’s telecommunications minister announced on Sunday that the country has defused a second cyberattack in less than a week, this time “aimed at spying on government intelligence.”
Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said in a short Twitter post that the alleged attack was “identified and defused by a cybersecurity shield,” and that the “spying servers were identified and the hackers were also tracked.” He did not elaborate.
Last Wednesday, Jahromi told the official IRNA news agency that a “massive” and “governmental” cyberattack also targeted Iran’s electronic infrastructure. He provided no specifics on the purported attack except to say it was also defused and that a report would be released.
On Tuesday, the minister dismissed reports of hacking operations targeting Iranian banks, including local media reports that accounts of millions of customers of Iranian banks were hacked.
This is not the first time Iran says it has defused a cyberattack, though it has disconnected much of its infrastructure from the Internet after the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation, disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.
In June, Washington officials said that US military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional military strike in response to Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone in the strategic Arabian Gulf.
Tensions have escalated between the US and Iran ever since President Donald Trump withdrew America last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and began a policy of “maximum pressure.” Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions.