Saudi Arabia, France to give Lebanese army $3-billion in arms

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Lebanese army soldiers carry the casket of their comrade Mohammed Noun, who was killed during clashes with Islamist gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli, during his funeral in the village of al-Ram in the Baalbek district of the Bekaa valley on October 27, 2014. (Photo: AFP - STR)

Published Monday, November 3, 2014

Saudi Arabia and France will sign a $3-billion agreement on Tuesday to provide weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese army, a Lebanese military source has said

"The weapons will fulfill the Lebanese army's needs for armored vehicles, machine guns, anti-armor shells and anti-aircraft weapons," the source, requesting anonymity, told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

Lebanese Army commander Jean Kahwagi will attend the signing ceremony Tuesday, a security source said, adding that military talks between Lebanon and France would "officially" start once the agreement was signed.

According to the source, the French government has not "vetoed" any weapons requested by the Lebanese army.

"France, however, has not yet replied to the weapons [wish] list," the source said.

Saudi Arabia last year announced it would give the Lebanese army $3 billion (2.4 billion euros) to purchase weapons and equipment from France, but that deal has yet to be fully implemented.

In August, the kingdom offered another $1 billion in funds to allow the army to purchase supplies immediately.

Iran and Washington has also sought to bolster Lebanon's military.

In September, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Iran is ready to offer equipment to the Lebanese army to bolster its battle against jihadists.

"Iran has decided to offer a grant as a token of its appreciation for Lebanon and its brave army, in the form of equipment that will help the military in the heroic battle it is waging against terrorism," Shamkhani was quoted as saying.

Iran's offer of support follows aid packages for the Lebanese army from both its regional rival Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The US announced in September it had delivered a new shipment of Hellfire missiles and would also supply light aircraft.

Announcing the supplies, US ambassador David Hale said the aircraft would be paid for out of the additional Saudi funding.

However, the US is trying to halt Iran’s military aid to Lebanon. In exchange for the continuous support of the US, Lebanon should commit to the US sanctions imposed on Iran which include not accepting any arms donations.

A source told Al-Akhbar that the US government threatened, directly and indirectly, to withhold all aid from the Lebanese army and to stop security cooperation if Lebanon breaches the sanctions against Iran and accepts the Iranian grant.

The last time the US objected to a donation to the Lebanese army was a few years ago when former Minister of Defense Elias Murr and the March 14 alliance blocked a donation from the Russian government.

Lebanese troops fought deadly clashes in October with jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and Syria al-Qaeda branch al-Nusra Front in the northern city of Tripoli. The fighting left 42 people dead, including 11 soldiers and eight civilians.

For the past few months, the military has been coming under increasing armed attacks, mainly in northern Lebanon.

The fighting in Tripoli came three months after the army clashed with Nusra and ISIS militants in the northeastern town of Ersal. The Ersal violence has left 16 soldiers dead and 85 wounded, while dozens of jihadists are said to have been killed, along with three civilians.

Islamist militants withdrew from the town to its outskirts, taking with them several dozen captive Lebanese soldiers and police, three of whom they have since executed.

(Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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