Saudis vow $3b to boost Lebanese army
Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to Lebanon to help strengthen the country’s armed forces and buy weapons from France, Lebanon’s president said on Sunday.
Michel Sleiman, who described the grant as the biggest ever for the nation’s military, gave no further details in a televised national address.
The Lebanese army has struggled to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria, a conflict that has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon and threatened the country’s stability.
“The Saudi king decided to give a generous, wellappreciated grant to Lebanon amounting to $ 3 billion for the Lebanese army, which will allow it to buy new and modern weapons,’’ Sleiman said.
“The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly, considering the historical relations that tie it to Lebanon and the military cooperation between the two countries.’’
French President Francois Hollande was due to discuss the issue during his visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Sleiman said, adding that he hopes Paris will quickly meet the initiative, and help the Lebanese army with arms, training and maintenance.
Lebanon, fragile in the best of times, is struggling to cope with the fallout from Syria’s civil war.
The conflict has deeply divided Lebanon and paralyzed the country’s ramshackle political system to the point that it has been stuck with a weak and ineffectual caretaker government since April.
It has also seen a wave of deadly bombings and shootings that have fueled fears that Lebanon, which experienced a brutal 15- year civil war of its own that only ended in 1990, could be slowly slipping back toward full-blown sectarian conflict.
Sleiman said in his address that “Lebanon is threatened by sectarian conflict and extremism,’’ and that strengthening the army is a popular demand.
The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in the country, and draws its ranks from all of Lebanon’s sects.
But it has struggled to contain the escalating violence in the country since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. It is also widely considered much weaker than the Shiite Hezbollah militant group, which is armed and funded by regional Shiite-power and Saudi-rival Iran.
The Saudi pledge appeared aimed, at least in part, at boosting the military in relation to Hezbollah.
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, left, meets French President Francois Hollande in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday. Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to Lebanon to buy weapons from France, Lebanon’s president said on Sunday.