France Begins to Provide Weapons to Lebanon

April 20, 2015  

The first French weapons from a $3 billion Saudi-funded program will arrive in Lebanon on Monday as allies seek to bolster the country’s defenses against the Islamic State (ISIS) group and other jihadists pressing along its Syrian border, AFP reported Sunday.

Anti-tank guided missiles are set to arrive at an air force base in Beirut, overseen by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Lebanese counterpart, Samir Mokbel.

France is expected to deliver 250 combat and transport vehicles, seven Cougar helicopters, three small corvette warships and a range of surveillance and communications equipment over four years as part of the $3 billion program.

The program is being entirely funded by Saudi Arabia, which is keen to see Lebanon’s army defend its borders against jihadist groups, particularly ISIS group and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra, instead of leaving the job to Hezbollah terrorists who are backed by its regional rival, Iran.

The contract also promises seven years of training for the 70,000-strong Lebanese army and 10 years of equipment maintenance, noted AFP.

“This project is to help us re-establish a Lebanese army capable of responding to new security realities,” a French defense official told the news agency.

Since the conflict in neighboring Syria broke out in 2011, Lebanon has faced mounting spill-over threats, first from the millions of refugees pouring across the border and increasingly from jihadists.

AFP noted that the sharp divisions between religious and ethnic communities in Lebanon have been deepened by conflicting views on the Syrian war, making the country difficult to work with when it comes to supplying weapons.

Hezbollah, which is a powerful political force in Lebanon, sent its fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, but many Lebanese still deeply resent the Assad regime which effectively colonized the country up to 2005.

Meanwhile, Israel remains concerned about any military assistance that might bolster a regional rival or fall into the hands of Hezbollah, which fought a short and brutal war against Israel as recently as 2006.

“The Lebanese army is already well-infiltrated by Hezbollah,” an Israeli official on condition of anonymity told AFP. “But we understand the necessity of reinforcing the capacity of the Lebanese army.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly threatened Israel, saying that in the next war his rocket barrages would close Israeli sea and airports.

In addition to Syria, Hezbollah is also being deployed in increasing numbers in Iraq, as part of Iran’s efforts to back Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated government against a Sunni uprising led by ISIS.

More recent reports claimed Hezbollah fighters and “military advisers” have also been sent to back Houthi rebels in Yemen.

At the same time, Nasrallah recently admitted that his terrorist group is incapable of defeating Israel on its own.

In an interview with Syrian state TV, the Hezbollah leader explained that despite boasts by himself and other Hezbollah leaders about the group’s capabilities, it is incapable of mounting a war against Israel independently.

“Are we supposed to lie to our people and ourselves, saying that we are capable of launching a war against Israel, wiping it off the map, and liberating Palestine? Hezbollah is incapable of doing this all by itself,” Nasrallah told his interviewer, after being asked why Hezbollah is not using its “sophisticated weapons” to “open a new front” against the Jewish state.

“We have never made such claims. We are realistic,” he continued.

“We are facing a real force,” he added, in an unusual nod to the formidable adversary Hezbollah faces in the IDF.


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