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Kahwagi heads to Washington to seek military support
Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi
Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi
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BEIRUT: Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi begins an official visit to Washington, D.C. Monday where he will work to ensure the continuation of U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Army.

Analysts expect that current levels of aid will be maintained, ruling out the possibility of a significant increase.

During the visit, which comes at the invitation of the U.S. army, Kahwagi is to meet with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and other senior U.S. military figures.

Retired Army Gen. Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at a number of Lebanese universities, told The Daily Star that he believed the visit was “routine.”

“The U.S. is worried about anything that might happen in the region [at this time] … they will not give you [the arms] you want, and what they will give you will not satisfy you,” he said.

Hanna said, however, that the invitation is in itself an “indicator” that the U.S. is still committed to maintaining its military aid to Lebanon.

“It is a message to the army and the state,” he said, adding, however, that this commitment would be put to the test if Lebanon does not honor its obligations toward the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Hanna said he thought it was possible that the U.S. might sell Lebanon some of its vehicles that were used in Iraq at a low price, since transporting them back [to the United States] would be costly. The U.S. has announced that it would pull out its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

“But this is useless, what would a Humvee do for you?” he said.

The retired general wondered how Lebanon could demand arms from the U.S., at a time when the country’s political factions have yet to agree on a national defense strategy.

“We are silly … what if they gave us tanks – which they won’t do – and then we decide on a defense strategy which does not rely on tanks?” he asked. “You have to have a strategy because an idea can connect goals to means. We haven’t yet decided on the goals and the strategy, so how are we asking for the means?”

National Dialogue Committee sessions attended by various Lebanese leaders have failed to establish a national defense strategy in years past.

The U.S. has provided about $100 million annually in military aid to Lebanon since 2005. Although the funds were temporarily put on hold last year, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told Prime Minister Najib Mikati, during the premier’s visit to New York in late September, that the U.S. would continue giving assistance to the army, despite the domestic challenges.

Hanna said that an increase in U.S. military aid to Lebanon hinged on many issues, primarily the disarmament of Hezbollah. “Hezbollah is the problem for the U.S. in Lebanon.”

Washington designates Hezbollah as terrorist organization.

Amin Hoteit, also a retired army general, was adamant that the visit would yield nothing for the Lebanese Army in terms of weapons.

“For any state to receive U.S. military aid, its army should be fulfilling the goals of the U.S. strategy and should commit to not using these arms against a strategic ally of the U.S.,” Hoteit told The Daily Star.

But since the Lebanese Army’s doctrine is based on the army’s defense of Lebanon against Israeli aggression, Hoteit continued, the army would receive no arms and ammunition from the U.S. “As long as the army is committed to this doctrine, it will receive no [significant] military aid.”

Hoteit said he believed the U.S. needs to communicate with armies in the region given the problems it was encountering in the Middle East.

“The U.S. would benefit from the visit by maintaining contact with the army command. As for the Lebanese Army, it might get some logistic support, manifested in some vehicles which Lebanon could get from any other state,” Hoteit noted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 10, 2011, on page 2.
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