BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Wednesday that Lebanon was in dire need of a defense strategy that relied on the Lebanese Army.
“There is a dire need for a defense strategy that depends on the Lebanese Army in confronting the Israeli enemy’s plots against Lebanon,” Sleiman said during a ceremony marking the 67th anniversary of the Lebanese Army.
As he spoke, Israeli warplanes flew low over several areas of south Lebanon, including Sidon, the south’s provincial capital.
Regarding the issue of weapons, Sleiman criticized the uncontrolled presence of arms.
“No to weapons that are randomly spread and yes to a flexible and open political debate, not doctrines that violate the freedoms and opinions of others,” he said.
Sleiman said the Army could not carry out its task outside a “national environment” and admitted the military needed sophisticated weaponry.
“There is a dire need to support the Army and supply it with sophisticated weapons,” he said.
Sleiman stressed the need to distance Lebanon from regional alliances and conflicts, but also said Lebanon should avoid being neutral toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Yes to keeping Lebanon neutral from the political ideologies and regional conflicts, and no to keeping Lebanon neutral regarding its surroundings, including the Palestinian cause,” he said in a speech at the Army barracks in Fayyadieh, northeast of Beirut.
For his part, Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said that despite the threats and accusations that had been made against the Army in recent weeks, it remained committed to its duties and would continue to defend Lebanon.
“We won’t back down from our national duties, and we won’t stop fighting against those who target the country’s security,” Kahwagi said Wednesday during his visit to Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
In a statement later Wednesday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati saluted the Army and said that his government was close to approving a new $1.6 billion plan to boost the military’s capabilities.
“The government, which works to secure the needs of the Army, is close to approving a four-year, comprehensive plan at an estimated cost of $1.6 billion,” he said.
The prime minister also hailed the military’s “sacrifices in defending Lebanon’s integrity, strengthening its unity, maintaining security throughout the country, defusing strife and fighting terrorism.”
For such services, Mikati added, the Lebanese Army “deserves the admiration, affection and appreciation of the Lebanese people.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri also congratulated the Army on the 67th anniversary of its founding, according to a press release issued by his office.
The statement also said that Hariri, who telephoned Kahwagi to congratulate him on the anniversary, expressed his hope that the “Army would remain the protective shield of Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and unity.”
Meanwhile, Kataeb Party lawmaker Sami Gemayel called for providing the Army with the political support necessary to enable its members to fulfill all their national duties, stressing that the military institution was the “backbone” of the Lebanese state.
“Weapons, defense and security tasks should be limited to members of the Army,” Gemayel said Wednesday in a statement in which he congratulated the military on its 67th anniversary.
The lawmaker also hailed the Army for its efforts in the midst of “dangerous internal and regional conditions,” calling on the Lebanese people to rally around the institution “that guarantees and preserves national security.”
Verbal attacks against the Lebanese Army for failing to stop its Syrian counterpart’s violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty also reached Kahwagi in the past few days.
Akkar MP Moeen Merhebi said last week that Kahwagi was a “failure” and most mistakes made by the Army were a result of Kahwagi’s policies.
But earlier this week, the Future Movement, of which Merhebi’s is a member, said it did not endorse the MP’s statements on the Army.
Future lawmaker Hadi Hobeish said Monday that Merhebi’s remarks did not represent the views of the Future Movement.