Rep. Steve Rothman wrote to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France last week, urging him to reconsider his country’s reported plans to sell anti-tank missiles to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

The letter cited reports that France intends to sell 100 Haut subsonique Optiquement Téléguidé Tiré d’un Tube anti-tank missile systems to the LAF by the end of February. Hezbollah, Rothman (D-9) warned, is in a position to take over the LAF, and if that were to occur, Israel could be in danger from France’s anti-tank missiles.

The French government has yet to respond.

In a phone call to The Jewish Standard earlier this week, Rothman elaborated on the need to support the Lebanese government and the LAF, while guaranteeing that weaponry does not fall into Hezbollah hands.

“Israel and the United States and many other pro-Israel nations believe that the Lebanese Armed Forces are an important last wall of defense against a Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon,” Rothman said.

The French proposal to sell sophisticated anti-tank weapons to the LAF raises concerns about how and on whom these weapons would be used, according to Rothman. Hezbollah, he said, has very few tanks, if any, so it is unlikely the terror group would be the target.

“The concern is that the LAF might one day be overridden by Hezbollah and thus place these anti-tank weapons in the hands of Hezbollah armed forces, who pose a serious national security threat to Israel,” he said.

While Israel remains in an official state of war with Lebanon and the U.S. State Department lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, both countries want to see the Lebanese government grow stronger to offset Hezbollah, Rothman said.

“The United States believes it is in its national security interests, as does Israel believe it’s in its national security interests, that Lebanon not be abandoned by friends and supporters so as to make it easier for Hezbollah to overwhelm that nation, whose people do not wish to be run by Hezbollah,” he said. “The United States and Israel support the people of Lebanon and the Lebanese government as long as they do not seek Israel’s harm or assist directly or indirectly on attacks on Israel or her citizens.”

While questioning France’s decision to arm Lebanon, Rothman, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, lamented the $205 million in aid for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range missile defense system that was left out of a recent continuing resolution President Obama signed last week.

The “continuing resolution” passed Dec. 21 includes $2.75 billion in annual defense assistance for Israel and maintains government funding at 2010 levels. The stop-gap emergency omnibus bill had initially included the Iron Dome funding when it passed out of the House, but Senate Republicans threatened a government shut-down if new earmarks were added.

When this temporary measure expires in March, Congress will have an opportunity to re-examine the funding and place it in a future bill.

While the United States has jointly developed the David’s Sling and Arrow anti-missile systems with Israel, the Iron Dome system was developed solely in Israel and this would have marked the first U.S. funding for the project.

“I am hopeful that with the help of my Democrat and Republican colleagues, who on a bipartisan basis have always supported President Obama’s request for that first-ever Iron Dome funding from the U.S., we’ll find a way, notwithstanding the challenging spending issues facing our nation, to include those critical Iron Dome monies for Israel,” Rothman said.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at Josh@jewishmediagroup.com.

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