France signed a defense agreement with Saudi Arabia earlier this week to finance $3 billion worth of new weapons for the Lebanese army (LAF). The deal comes as the LAF and Hezbollah fight to contain violent spillovers from neighboring Syria.
While exact details of the contract were not disclosed, Lebanese media reports that Saudi Arabia will provide Beirut with French-made armored vehicles, combat and transport helicopters, anti-tank weapons, artillery pieces, small arms and possibly even anti-aircraft systems. Deliveries could begin as soon as next month.
Lebanese army soldiers carry their weapons during clashes with Islamist militants in Tripoli, Oct. 25, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)
The finalized agreement marks the second major donation from Saudi Arabia to the LAF in the wake of violent attacks from Sunni extremists. In August, Riyadh pledged $1 billion to the struggling government following a deadly battle with militants in the border town of Arsal. Other sectarian attacks over the past two years, and the advance of jihadists into the in the Mediterranean town of Tripoli, Lebanon just two weeks ago, worry many in the region about Lebanon’s stability.
But, the close relationship between the LAF and Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist organization, makes support from the Sunni monarchy unusual. Riyadh’s move maybe more opportunistic than simply providing a fellow Arab country with much needed weaponry to fight extremists. With the deployment of thousands of Hezbollah fighters in Syria to bolster President Bashar al-Assad, the organization had been strained domestically. Suicide car bombs have targeted Shiite neighborhoods in South Beirut while hundreds of Hezbollah fighters have died across the border. Lebanese public opinion has questioned the group’s real intentions, with critics saying it is more a proxy for Iran than a Lebanese resistance front confronting Israel.
With new doubts over Hezbollah’s strength and domestic support, the Saudi Prince’s are likely trying to gain influence in Lebanon at expense of their Shiite rivals in the region.