TYRE, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army has been asked to hammer out a defense strategy to protect Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas reserves, President Michel Sleiman said Friday during a tour of south Lebanon.
He added that until the Army was equipped with sophisticated arms under the government’s five-year plan, Lebanon could benefit from Hezbollah’s weapons to defend the country against a possible Israeli attack.
“Oil needs protection and a strategy to defend it. We have drawn up a [defense] strategy and asked the Army to prepare a strategy for sea, land and air defense,” Sleiman said in a speech addressing troops at the Army’s base in the southern city of Tyre.
“However, this strategy requires equipment and armament. We have approved a five-year program for equipping the Army. But until this has been achieved with the aim of bolstering the Army with sufficient arms and equipment to help it implement this strategy, we can benefit from the resistance’s weapons in light of the Army’s needs and according to a decision-making mechanism on which we can agree at the [National] Dialogue Committee,” he added.
Referring to the defense strategy he had presented to the Dialogue Committee last year, Sleiman said: “We need the resistance’s capabilities, which have shown courage and played a major role in liberation [from Israeli occupation], in line with the Army’s requests. We also need the resistance’s doctrine to establish and implement democracy in Lebanon.”
The president was welcomed at the military base by Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi; Brig. Gen. George Shreim, commander of the south Litani area; and Brig. Gen. Ali Shahrour, Army intelligence chief in the south.
Sleiman predicted “a promising future” for Lebanon as a result of the expected drilling of oil and gas reserves in its territorial waters.
“This [oil] wealth will not be used to repay debts, but as a wealth for the next generations,” he said.
The government has formed a six-member Petroleum Administration with full powers to negotiate with international oil companies and issue licenses for the winning firms to drill for oil and gas off the Lebanese coast.
Britain-based Spectrum, which was conducting a 3-D seismic survey off the coast, said the southern territorial waters had an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet of gas buried under the sea. International experts have estimated the value of gas between $40 billion and $70 billion.
A source at Baabda Palace said Sleiman’s trip to the south was an “annual traditional visit” to convey his greetings to Lebanese troops and the U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL on the New Year.
“The president is visiting UNIFIL as part of a regular visit,” UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti told The Daily Star.
Sleiman arrived in the border town of Naqoura aboard a military helicopter. He headed straight to the Naqoura headquarters of UNIFIL where he was welcomed by Kahwaji and UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra.
After a military band played the national Lebanese and UNIFIL anthems and the president inspected a UNIFIL Guard of Honor, Sleiman headed to Serra’s office where he held talks centering on cooperation between the Army and the peacekeepers.
In welcoming Sleiman, Serra said: “Your presence here today Mr. President, is a fervent expression of your sustained support and commitment to the work carried out by UNIFIL in the south of Lebanon and to our strategic partnership with the Lebanese Army.”
During the meeting, issues related to the implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate under U.N. Resolution 1701 were discussed, with particular focus on cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces, according to a UNIFIL statement.
Serra said he briefed Sleiman about the “close coordination between UNIFIL and the LAF, which is critical for the successful implementation of our mandate.
“This strategic partnership has brought substantial improvement in the security environment in the south and I intend to take it forward.
“I also stressed on the strong relationship between UNIFIL and the people of south Lebanon who have welcomed and hosted the peacekeepers since 1978. This close human bond is paramount for the success of the mission,” he added.
Serra expressed his satisfaction at the prevailing calm and stability in the UNIFIL area of operation in southern Lebanon.
In his speech at the military base in Tyre, Sleiman underlined the Army’s role in protecting the country and its sovereignty “alongside UNIFIL whose role we highly appreciate.”
Addressing Lebanese troops, he said: “What is required from you is protection and coordination with UNIFIL in order to implement Resolution 1701.”
“The Lebanese Army has defended democracy, public freedoms and human rights, renounced fanaticism and fought terrorism,” Sleiman added.
He urged troops to keep an eye on the security situation and prevent the repercussions of the conflict in Syria from spilling over into Lebanon.
“The Army in the first place must protect itself from the slide into politics or sectarianism,” Sleiman said.