Lebanese army soldiers stand next to displayed weapons that they received during a ceremony at Beirut airport airbase April 20.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The first shipment of French weapons and military equipment arrived in Lebanon on Monday under a Saudi-funded deal worth $3 billion. The arms and supplies will supposedly bolster the Lebanese army’s fight against Sunni terrorists encroaching from Syria, though thoughts of countering Hezbollah were likely also in mind.
Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post Monday that the primary objective of these weapons is to improve the Lebanese army’s ability to secure the country from the spillover from Syria.
France and Saudi Arabia are developing defense ties and this deal reflects that growing relationship, said Badran.
The Saudi-funded arms are meant to shore up the moderate Sunni leadership in Lebanon, represented by the figure of former prime minister Saad Hariri, demonstrating that this leadership stands behind the state and its security, he asserted.
The moderate Sunni bloc is being threatened not only by the Sunni extremists, but also by Hezbollah.
It was Hariri who last year announced a $1 billion grant to the army.
Hezbollah had been attacking Lebanon’s Sunni leadership, and indeed the broader community, as sympathizers and supporters of jihadi groups.
Asked if the weapons could be meant to target Hezbollah, Badran responded, “Over the long term they want to make sure that the army is strong enough to be in control of its territory but in the immediate context it is about countering the spillover from Syria.”
Badran went on to point out that one downside of supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces was that it was indirectly helping Hezbollah, one of their enemies.
“The LAF has been playing a growing role in military operations in the northeast bekaa, to the benefit of a stretched Hezbollah,” he said.
Hariri does not own a militia, so the Saudis must think that by boosting the military, it is a way to give the moderate Sunnis some power and prevent the country from exploding.
However, Badran argues that the Saudis appear not to have got as much as they could in return from the LAF command.
Badran notes that Lebanese army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji refused to back the Saudis when asked about criticism made by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah against the Gulf states military operation in Yemen in an interview in Asharq al-Awsat.
“The Saudis have put together a coalition to counter Iranian expansionism, as they understand that this US administration is not going to hold up America’s traditional role,” he added.
Lebanese news channels showed a military plane at Beirut International Airport with green boxes of weapons and missiles laid out in front. Saudi and French flags waved and the French and Lebanese defense ministers attended the ceremony.
Lebanon, whose sectarian divisions have been exacerbated by the war over the border in Syria, has said it needs more resources and better hardware.
The deal will involve about 20 French companies and cover a mix of land, sea and air equipment, including armored vehicles, heavy artillery, anti-tank missiles, mortars and assault weapons, a French Defense Ministry source has said.
A security source from Lebanon, which is still rebuilding after its own 15-year civil war, said the first shipment was 48 “Milan” anti-tank missiles.
The deal was signed in November in Riyadh.