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|Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn in aid to the Lebanese armed forces, a gift that comes in a time when tensions run high, both inside Lebanon and across the region.Lebanese President Michel Sleiman announced the donation on Sunday describing it as the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces. It is almost double the amount of Lebanon’s entire defence budget for last year.
“This aid aims to support Lebanon in all its religions and support the Lebanese army that is known for supporting national unity. We will provide it with all the needed conditions to achieve the great national cause that it was set up for,” he said.
Sleiman made the announcement after the funeral of senior Lebanese politician Mohamed Shatah who was killed in a car bomb on Friday.
Shatah was critical of Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah and Syria’s president, which Hezbollah supports. But there has been no claim of responsibility for his killing.
Lebanon’s army has struggled to deal with violence spilling over from Syria’s civil war and is seen as weak in dealing with armed internal groups, especially Hezbollah.
In the last three years, Saudi Arabia has been pushing to be the Middle East’s most powerful player.
In Egypt, the Saudis backed the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi; within two hours of the coup, they pledged $5bn in aid.
They have also positioned themselves as crucial players in Syria, funding the rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and providing them with weapons.
And in Yemen, Saudi Arabia carefully brokered the power transition in 2011 following the uprising there. That allowed its long-time ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to leave office with immunity from prosecution.
So, is the donation to Lebanon a recipe for further turmoil or will it allow for greater security? And what does it mean for Saudi Arabia’s role in the region?
Inside Story explores the reasons behind this donation and the potential ramifications. Presenter Laura Kyle discusses with Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and head of the Middle East Centre for Studies and Research; Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University; and Mustafa Alani, a military analyst and senior adviser at the Gulf Research Centre.
Day After Saudi Arabia Gives Record $3 Billion To Lebanese Army, Lebanese Troops Fire At Syrian Warplanes | Zero Hedge
That didn’t take long.
It was only yesterday that Saudi Arabia pledged a record $3 billion to prop up Lebanon’s armed forces, in what the WSJ described as “a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia’s decades-long status as Lebanon’s main power broker and security force.” Lebanese President Michel Sleiman revealed the Saudi gift on Lebanese national television Sunday, calling it the largest aid package ever to the country’s defense bodies. The Saudi pledge compares with Lebanon’s 2012 defense budget, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put at $1.7 billion.
The Saudi move was announced hours after thousands of Lebanese turned out for the funerals of former cabinet minister Mohamad Chatah and some of the other victims killed Friday in a bombing in downtown Beirut. The bomb was believed to have targeted Mr. Chatah, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese affairs and security. No group has claimed responsibility. Saudi Arabia on Friday responded to the assassination by calling for Lebanon to build up the government and armed forces “to stop this tampering with the security of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Surprisingly, the biggest winner here may be none other than France: “Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy “newer and more modern weapons,” from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah. It followed what he called “decades of unsuccessful efforts” to build a credible Lebanese national defense force.”
However, back to the Lebanese quid pro quo: less than 24 hours after the announcement, what does Lebanon go ahead and do? Why it fired at Syrian warplanes (recall Syria is the archnemesis of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar) of course, the first time it has done so since the start of the Syrian conflict. From BBC:
Lebanese troops have fired at Syrian warplanes violating its airspace, for what is thought to be the first time since the conflict in Syria began.
Lebanon’s National News Agency said the army had responded to a raid on Khirbet Daoud, near Arsal in the Bekaa Valley.
Syrian government forces have fired into Lebanon in the past, targeting rebels sheltering over the border.
The Lebanese authorities had until now not responded militarily, hoping they would not be dragged into the war.
Arsal is predominantly Sunni and its residents have been broadly supportive of the Sunni-dominated uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The north-eastern town has been flooded with refugees since the Syrian military launched an offensive in the Qalamoun mountains last month.
Some 20,000 people have settled in makeshift camps, as Syrian troops backed by members of the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah have sought to cut rebel cross-border supply routes.
And that is how Syria buys proxy war access on yet another front in an indication that its hopes that sooner or later the Syrian conflict will re-escalate enough to allow the “developed west” to stage another chemical attack and finally have the US topple Assad, are still alive. The only question is whether this time Putin, instead of simply diffusing the Syrian confrontation once again, will have an incendiary present or two for the Saudi princes, in part as gratitude for the string of recent Saudi-inspired terrorist attacks in Volgograd.
Lebanese President Sleiman announced the grant on Sunday in a televised address [AP]
|Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn for the Lebanese army, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman announced, calling it the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces.The pledge comes just as Lebanon held a funeral for Mohamad Chatah, the former finance minister, amid rising tensions over who might have killed him.
“The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3bn to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities,” Suleiman said in a televised address on Sunday.
He said the funds would allow Lebanon’s military to purchase French weapons.
French President Francois Hollande, currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia where he met King Abdullah, said France would supply weapons to the Lebanese army if it was asked to do so.
He told a news conference in Riyadh: “France has equipped the Lebanese army for a while up until recently and we will readily answer any solicitation … If demands are made to us we will satisfy them.”
Lebanon’s armed forces have been struggling to deal with violence spreading over the border from Syria’s civil war.
The country, which is still rebuilding after its own 15-year civil war, has seen clashes between gunmen loyal to opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, as well as attacks on the army itself.
Lebanon’s army is seen as one of the few institutions not overtaken by sectarian divisions that plague the country, but it is ill-equipped to deal with internal threats.
The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be seeking to bolster the army as a counterbalance to Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah, a Shia armed group and political party backed by regional Shia power Iran.
Rising regional Sunni-Shia tensions have been stoked by the war in neighbouring Syria, where rebel forces, made up mainly by the country’s Sunni Muslim majority, are fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.