NAQOURA, Lebanon: President Michel Sleiman Wednesday said he hoped a national defense strategy under which the resistance would assist the Lebanese Army would be implemented once efforts to provide the military with advanced weapons were carried out.
Addressing Army soldiers and officers at their barracks in the southern city of Tyre, Sleiman denied reports that the military was banned from acquiring specific arms.
“The resistance will support the Army when the Army needs it. A strategy was laid out regarding this issue that will be discussed by the National Dialogue Committee,” Sleiman said.
“This is precisely what I spoke of in my inaugural address when I called for creating a defense strategy so the country can benefit from the capabilities of the resistance and avoid exhausting its achievements with political bickering.”
Sleiman added that the national defense strategy would complement plans to provide the Lebanese Army with weaponry.
In 2012, during a National Dialogue Committee meeting, Sleiman proposed a national defense strategy under which Hezbollah’s arms would be placed under the command of the Army.
Sleiman spearheaded efforts to provide the Army with new weapons, a process that has recently gained momentum.
Late last year, Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to Lebanon’s poorly equipped military to help it purchase weapons and military supplies from France. In 2012, the Lebanese government approved a $1.6 billion five-year plan to buy equipment for the Army. It still requires Parliament’s endorsement.
The International Support Group for Lebanon, launched by Sleiman and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York last year, will hold a conference in Rome later this year to address the needs of the Lebanese Army.
The military also receives annual aid from the United States.
Speaking to The Daily Star, sources from Baabda Palace voiced surprise that some in Lebanon were arguing that Sleiman’s efforts to provide the military with new weapons were aimed at boosting his popularity as a prelude to seeking an extension for his term, which expires on May 25.
“The plan to provide the Lebanese Army with weapons ... was launched by Sleiman when he was appointed an Army commander in 1998,” one source said, requesting to remain anonymous.
Sleiman denied media reports that the military was banned from receiving certain French arms under the Saudi grant.
“It shouldn’t be said that the Army is forbidden from acquiring certain weapons, certainly not ... there is nothing the Army is forbidden from getting,” Sleiman said. “But there is a specified amount of money, and the Army has to decide what arms it needs.”
Sleiman also said that the military had full political cover to act wherever it wanted.
Earlier, Sleiman, accompanied by Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, visited the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon in the southern village of Naqoura, where he held a meeting with UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra.
During the meeting, Sleiman expressed his gratitude for the sacrifices made by UNIFIL and its efforts to preserve peace in the area in coordination with the Army.
A UNIFIL statement said Sleiman was briefed by Serra on issues related to the implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate under U.N. Resolution 1701, and its cooperation with the Army to achieve this end.
“I was very encouraged by the president’s gesture in visiting us today. There is a strong message here for all of us: the message that Lebanon stands firm in its commitment to Resolution 1701 and to our mission, notwithstanding the grim challenges the country faces today,” Serra said after the visit.
“I assured the president that our peacekeepers are determined to stay the course and to work shoulder to shoulder with the Lebanese Armed Forces in our common effort to maintain stability in southern Lebanon.”
The president concluded his tour to the south by visiting the headquarters of the Finnish UNIFIL contingent in the village of Tiri, where he discussed with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto means to enhance bilateral ties between the two countries.
The Finnish president arrived in Lebanon earlier Wednesday to discuss cooperation and regional developments with senior officials.