Pentagon reiterates support for Lebanon's military as Hezbollah makes electoral gains
The US military is still committed to supporting and providing assistance to the Lebanese armed forces, the Pentagon said on Friday, just days after Hezbollah and its allies made significant gains in the country's parliamentary elections.
Hezbollah, together with parties and politicians aligned with it, won more than half the 128 seats in Lebanon's parliament on Sunday.
On Monday, the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, spoke of a big political and electoral victory for the "resistance," saying that Hezbollah had cast away any doubts about the support that it enjoys within its base.
Besides retaining Shia representation in full, Hezbollah was able to expand its base in parliament, picking up seats for Sunni and Christian allies in Beirut and the Beqaa Valley.
The United States, which has given Lebanon's army substantial support, classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group and condemns its role in the Syrian conflict.
The strong showing by parties and politicians who support Hezbollah's possession of weapons risk complicating Western policy towards Lebanon, which is banking on foreign aid and loans to revive its stagnant economy, and which receives US military support.
Late last year, Israel said Hezbollah had gained control over Lebanon's conventional military, a charge the country's army denies.
"The United States remains committed to supporting Lebanon's sovereignty, stability, security, and its state institutions, to include the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as the professional ... sole legitimate armed forces of the Lebanese state," Lieutenant Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Reuters in a statement.
"Strengthening the US-Lebanon defence relationship is all the more important in light of the continuing threats emanating from Syria, including continued ISIS challenges and Iranian aggression," Rebarich said, using a different acronym for the Islamic State (IS) group.
She added that the United States and Lebanon share a goal of building the LAF's capacity as "the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon's sovereignty".
The United States has given Lebanon more than $1.5bn in military assistance since 2006.
A grouping of major powers on Thursday urged Lebanon to uphold a policy of keeping out of regional wars.
Hezbollah is involved in the war across the border in Syria, sending fighters to help the government's military.
Israel claimed it struck nearly all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday.
Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time in retaliation.