ROME: The international conference in Rome should be the starting point of a long-term, structured process to back stability in Lebanon through its military, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini said Tuesday.
Her remarks were part of the opening ceremony to kick start the conference attended by a number of foreign delegations to discuss future collaboration with the Lebanese Army and the progress that has been made so far.
During the conference, Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil said the conference, which is merely aimed at providing political support for the military, should be accompanied by concrete action to improve the Army.
Addressing the conference at the Italian Foreign Ministry headquarters, Mogherini said “we need to begin a process that is longstanding” for the Lebanese Army.
“We know this is not a pledging conference but ... Italy is ready to provide education and training for the Army,” she said. “It is the beginning of a process, a well-structured mechanism that’s been already launched in Lebanon.”
“International assistance will not be sufficient to support stability,” she said, adding that consistent action should do the job.
Mogherini also spoke about the presidential vacuum in Lebanon after lawmakers failed to elect a new president on May 25, the end of Michel Sleiman's term.
“We know there is no agreement yet on new president, but we’re confident that the traditional wisdom of the Lebanese will have them reach a political agreement,” she said. “We don’t want a void at a time of so much weakness because we want to allow the Army to perform its tasks.”
Lebanon's Defense Minister Samir Moqbel then outlined military requirements to improve the capabilities of the Lebanese Army including a modern and secure information and communication system, a large panel of intelligence collection and means to counter land, sea or air incursions.
Short- and long-range static and mobile radar and an alert system to fill the gaps in unreachable areas in mountainous zones in the northern and eastern borders, favorable to infiltrations, are needed for the Army, he said.
“The Army should be able to grant secure access to the economic exclusive zone and its energy resources ... it needs an offshore patrol vessel fleet armed enough to be deterrent,” he said.
He also noted that the Army needed a quantitative and qualitative increase of the existing mall shore patrol vessels fleet as well as “modern air defense capability, able to protect strategic and sensitive areas and locations.”
He also spoke about the government's five-year defense plan, saying that the capabilities development plan had been updated in light of the $3 billion Saudi grant to equip the military.
“In spite of many favorable responses to its implementation, it is to be noted that until today these responses are still insufficient,” he said. "Terrorism and extremism remain a global concern ... The only strategy that can effectively and efficiently combat those spreading dangers is by the full support and assistance to a strong Army."
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman said Lebanon has “shouldered a terrible burden” over the past three years as the Syrian crisis grinds on.
“There is been spill over in terms of security problems and there have been enormous numbers of refugees that have been generously hosted by the Lebanese [despite] internal tensions,” he said.
Feltman lauded the Saudi contribution to the Army, and called on other parties to reflect on what they could do to assist.
“The LAF has demonstrated time and time again that is stands for the unity of Lebanon and the security for Lebanon and the Lebanese people," he said.
He went on to voice regret for the vacancy in the presidency at such a sensitive moment, but added that "the Lebanese are perfectly capable of solving their problems.”