Lebanon receives first shipment of French weapons

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Lebanon receives first shipment of French weapons
The Daily Star/Apr. 20, 2015

BEIRUT: Lebanon Monday received its first shipment of French weapons financed by a $3 billion Saudi arms grant announced nearly a year and a half ago. In a ceremony marking the arrival of the long-anticipated and badly needed weapons, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel expressed confidence in the Army’s ability to protect the country from extremists. “Lebanon’s victory against terrorism is a victory for all countries threatened by this terrorism,” Moqbel said in a joint news conference at the Beirut airport air base with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian. The ceremony was also attended by Lebanese Army Commander Jean Kahwagi, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri, and many other officials.

Le Drian said France “has helped and will help Lebanon not to be dragged into chaos surrounding it,” adding that French military assistance to Lebanon was a long-term process extending 10 years. He said the French shipments would include dozens of armored vehicles and modern artillery warfare such the “Caesar” 155mm truck-mounted artillery system as well as many other types of weapons. A senior Lebanese military official had told The Daily Star that the first arms shipment would be mainly anti-tank guided missiles.

Le Drian said France would also deploy 60 French officers in Lebanon to train soldiers on the use of the new weapons. Kahwagi has said the military aid Lebanon received Monday as part of the $3 billion Saudi grant will “[enhance] the Lebanese Army and increase its readiness and strength to confront terrorism and defend Lebanon’s borders.”He said the French weapons “will greatly improve [the Army’s] situation.” The Saudi grant was announced in December 2013 by then-president Michel Sleiman.

In a report from Paris, AFP said France is expected to deliver 250 combat and transport vehicles, seven Cougar attack helicopters, three small corvette warships and a range of surveillance and communication equipment over four years as part of the $3 billion modernization program. The contract also promises seven years of training for the 70,000-strong Lebanese Army and 10 years of equipment maintenance. “This project is to help us re-establish a Lebanese Army capable of responding to new security realities,” AFP quoted a French defense official as saying.The project is being entirely funded by Saudi Arabia. The arrival of the first shipment comes after an initial agreement was signed by French President François Hollande and Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz. An additional protocol agreement for the Saudi-funded arms deal was signed Saturday between senior Lebanese Army officers and officials from the French company ODAS. The protocol agreement was signed in the presence of Kahwagi at his office in Yarze.

Acting on behalf of the French state, ODAS negotiates and signs government-to-government contracts for defense and security systems and services. The company monitors contract execution in close cooperation with the Defense Ministry while continuously liaising between customer and contractors to guarantee successful program delivery with the full backing of Paris.
In addition to the $3 billion military aid, Saudi Arabia has also promised an additional $1 billion grant to purchase arms and equipment to the Lebanese Army and security forces to help them in the ongoing battle against terrorism. The French arms delivery comes amid growing fears that ISIS and Nusra Front militants, entrenched in mountainous caves on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal, are preparing to launch a major offensive against Lebanon once the snow in the mountains has melted. The Army has frequently clashed with Syria-based militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front. The two groups, which fought Lebanese troops in Arsal last August, are still holding 25 soldiers and policemen hostage after killing four of their captives. In addition to France, the United States has also supplied the Lebanese Army with more than $1 billion in military aid over the last decade. Britain has provided training facilities as well as watch towers and forward operating bases along the border with Syria. Future Movement chief Saad Hariri thanked Saudi kind Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz Monday for the Saudi “keenness on Lebanon and its stability,” and for what the kingdom had offered the Lebanese Army in aid. According to a statement released by Hariri’s media office, the former Prime Minister’s visit to King Salman was in light of the arrival of the first shipment of French arms.

A welcome lifeline
The Daily Star/Apr. 20, 2015
As the first shipment of arms bought with Saudi Arabia’s $3 billion gift to Lebanon arrives Monday, it’s worth remembering how much the kingdom has done for this country. The arms shipment – the first of many – will be crucial, observers have noted, for the Lebanese Army and its fight against both jihadis and Israel. And it should silence those critics of the Saudi donation, who for months have been finding a whole host of ways to criticize it – labeling it as mythical, or as merely a political step. But unlike many foreign powers which have opinions about Lebanon, Saudi Arabia’s gift was real and tangible. It was not merely empty rhetoric or inflammatory words. It was a much-needed donation, and is just the latest in a series of moves by Saudi Arabia to help support Lebanon. For decades now, Riyadh has been there for Beirut, in times of security, political and financial crises. And the support it has given has been for all Lebanese, regardless of political affiliation or sect. And were this support to dry up – perhaps in response to attacks against it – this would negatively affect all Lebanese, again regardless of community. That is not to mention the some 200,000 Lebanese living and working in Saudi Arabia, many of whom have become millionaires, in work that has allowed them to employ more Lebanese workers, and send remittances home. This work could be in jeopardy if certain groups and individuals continue to seek to undermine the important relationship with Saudi Arabia. To belittle Saudi aid to and support for Lebanon is to willfully ignore the help of a true friend. Those seeking to do so are certainly not concerned with the good of the nation as a whole.