BEIRUT: As part of his efforts to bolster the Lebanese Army’s ability to battle terrorism, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has revived a 2010 arms grant from Moscow that would provide the military with helicopters and tanks, political sources said Monday.
Hariri has contacted a number of Russian officials over the past two weeks, resulting in the reactivation of a military grant agreement he had signed during his official visit to Moscow as prime minister of Lebanon in November 2010, the sources told The Daily Star.
Under the grant agreement, Moscow would provide the Lebanese Army with six helicopters and 77 tanks, as well as 1 million bullets and 37,000 shells of various calibers, the sources said.
Hariri announced last month a $1 billion Saudi grant to help the Lebanese Army and security forces in their battle against terrorism, following five days of ferocious fighting between the military and Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the northeastern town of Arsal.
The $1 billion comes on top of another $3 billion grant to be used to buy weapons for the Lebanese Army from France, which was announced by Saudi King Abdullah last December.
The head of the Future Movement, who returned to Lebanon last month after more than three years abroad for security reasons, had held talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi aimed at implementing the $1 billion Saudi grant to meet the needs of the Army and security forces in carrying out their tasks in fighting terrorism.
Now that Hariri has cleared the deck for reviving the Russian military grant, the Lebanese Defense Ministry is working to form a delegation that might be headed by Kahwagi to visit Moscow for talks on outlining technical issues related to the grant, the sources said. They added that Kahwagi has met with the Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin to prepare for the visit.
Russia, greatly concerned about the threat of terrorism sweeping over the region, is determined to extend military assistance to the Lebanese Army and political support for authorities to help them confront threats posed to the country’s security and stability by Al-Qaeda-linked groups, the sources said.
Russia’s stance had been relayed to Lebanese officials who visited Moscow recently, particularly Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
During his visit to Moscow more than two months ago, Bassil was told by his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that Russia was ready to extend all support to the Lebanese Army and implement the grant, the sources said.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk also plans to visit Moscow between Sept. 18 and 22 for talks with his Russian counterpart and other security officials on the possible purchase, using money from the $1 billion Saudi grant, of arms and equipment for the security agencies and directorates that fall under the Interior Ministry’s authority, the sources added.
According to the sources, Machnouk, who has described the security situation in Arsal as “a time bomb ready to explode anytime,” will also explore the possibility of acquiring an additional Russian grant.