Lebanese army men on tanks on patrol near Beirut’s seafront. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not make good on his promises to make the appropriations necessary to finalize the arms deal signed by the Lebanese army and the Russian government. The United States and Saudi Arabia support Hariri’s delay, while the army is in the midst of an ongoing confrontation with takfiri terrorist groups on the eastern border with Syria.
The Lebanese army should not be supplied with Russian weapons, though it desperately needs them for its battle against takfiri terrorist groups. This is a logical deduction from the arms deal’s hiatus, brought about by a failure to make the proposed $500 million appropriations. These appropriations were supposed to come out of a $1 billion grant from Saudi Arabia to the Lebanese army and security forces, the spending of which is being supervised by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
During a visit to Moscow last January, a large delegation of the Lebanese army leadership headed by the chief of staff, Brigadier General Walid Salman, put the finishing touches on an order of Russian weapons. They carefully determined the types of weapons they needed and signed the contracts. The weapons are ready to be transferred to Lebanon as soon as Hariri makes the appropriations, something he promised to do “within 48 hours.”
Al-Akhbar learned that the deal includes 250 Kornet missiles with 24 launchers, six multiple rocket launchers with a firing range of 40 kilometers and 30 rockets. Sources indicates that the Russians asked the Lebanese to pay 30 percent of the cost before delivery. Hariri offered to pay 50 percent in advance on condition of bringing down the price and promised to make appropriations “within 48 hours” to begin transferring the money, to which the Russians agreed. As such, the army leadership signed the contract a month and a half ago. However, the appropriations were not made and the weapons were not delivered.
While military sources denied knowing the reason behind this incomprehensible delay, they say that the army leadership has done its part and is now waiting.
The army initially wanted 500 Kornet rockets and a number of rocket launchers and multiple rocket launchers with 40 kilometer firing range. The Russians offered to sell Lebanon 60 T-72 tanks and give 60 more of the same model for free, and to sell a number of helicopters and give an equivalent number for free as well. Hariri, however, rejected the offer and asked to reduce the number of Kornet missiles from 500 to 250.
This raises questions about the reason behind Hariri’s position. Do the Saudis not want this number of weapons reaching the Lebanese army in its confrontation with terrorist groups in the hills along the eastern border, so as to keep the area a bleeding wound for Hezbollah? Or is it pressure by the US, which is opposed to the idea of diversifying weapons sources for the Lebanese army, in order to keep it dependent on US weapons exclusively?Do the Saudis not want this number of weapons reaching the Lebanese army in its confrontation with terrorist groups in the hills along the eastern border, so as to keep the area a bleeding wound for Hezbollah?
Lebanon has a prior experience with the US blocking a Russian arms shipment to the army in 2010. Wikileaks documents revealed that the US ambassador in Beirut at the time, Michele Sison, worked with then-assistant secretary of state (current US ambassador to Beirut) David Hill to block the gift. She informed then-Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr of her country’s objection to the Russian deal which included 10 MiG-29 fighter aircrafts. Murr promised her to do what is necessary to “dilute this” and guarantee that “Lebanon would not accept this delivery before 2040.”
According to information, Hariri succeeded through contacts with Russian officials, after the Ersal battle last August, in reviving the shipment that Moscow had offered the Lebanese army when he was prime minister in 2010. The new deal, however, replaces the MiG-29 fighter aircrafts with six Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters, 77 T-72A tanks, 36 130 mm field guns, 37,000 artillery shells of varying calibers and about half a million rounds of ammunition. On September 20, 2014, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk announced from Moscow that “the Lebanese army is going to buy new weapons from Russia soon,” having previously confirmed Lebanese intent to “diversify its arms sources to include Russia, France and the US.”
However, press reports indicated that Washington “formally protested” the T-72 tank deal with Russia to the Lebanese government and the army leadership, providing “documented information about Lebanese and Russian middlemen receiving a commission equal to the cost of the entire deal,” rumored to be worth up to $100 million.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.