BEIRUT: France has not responded yet on whether it would provide the Lebanese Army with weapons and equipment in line with a $3-billion Saudi grant provided last year, senior Army sources said.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a Lebanese military delegation held tough negotiations with French military officials, who visited Lebanon recently.
“Although Saudi Arabia has informed Lebanon that it can ask for the equipment it needs in order to boost its military capabilities as part of the grant, French officials, without any justification, have not responded to the list of needs submitted by the Army,” one source told The Daily Star. The source refused to divulge the content of the list.
The sources said that Saudi Arabia did not specify the kind of weaponry and military equipment to be delivered to the Army, adding that the oil giant said the military would get the arms it deemed necessary and that France would respond to meet these needs.
President Michel Sleiman announced in late December that Saudi Arabia had granted the Lebanese Army with $3 billion in military equipment to be purchased from France.
In 2012, the government approved a five-year plan worth $4.4 billion to provide the Army with weapons.
The Cabinet allocated $1.6 billion to this end, and the Saudi grant will secure the remaining funds needed to implement the plan.
According to the plan, the Army will build facilities to the south of the Litani River and erect posts on borders worth $200 million.
Additionally, $50 million will be allocated to rehabilitate naval bases. The Army will also improve its Air Force, purchase ammunition and radar equipment worth $300 million. Also, $200 million will be spent to develop Lebanon’s naval force, $80 million to improve anti-armor weapons, $600 million to bolster artillery capabilities and $80 million for armored units.
It’s been decades since the Army has received advanced weaponry. The Saudi grant comes as the military establishment faces mounting security challenges resulting from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanese troops struggle to contain recurrent armed clashes in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and their rivals, in the mainly-Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
The persistence of terrorist attacks is proving to be another challenge for the Army. The military establishment is carrying on with its crackdown on terrorist groups and arrested key figures from the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades in recent weeks.
Hundreds were killed and wounded in a recent spate of bombings which has targeted the Beirut southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support. Most of the bombings were claimed by radical Syrian rebel groups in retaliation for Hezbollah’s participation in Syria’s war alongside Assad. The Lebanese Army is also working to prevent arms smuggling from and to Syria.