Monday, October 27, 2008

Lebanon Outlines Military Needs

The NY Times brings us a special report on discussions within the US administration on responding to Lebanon's extensive military shortfalls, including the procuring of an air-defense network, a reconstitution of the Lebanese Army's tank fleet, and the setting up of a secure communications military communications network. An abridged version follows:
...At the gates of a military base just north of Beirut, groups of soldiers drive new American Humvees and trucks, and some tote gleaming new American rifles and grenade launchers.

The weapons are the leading edge of a new American commitment to resupply the military of this small but pivotal Middle Eastern country, which emerged three years ago from decades of Syrian domination.

The new wave of aid, the first major American military assistance to Lebanon since the 1980s, is meant to build an armed force that could help stabilize Lebanon’s fractured state, fight a rising terrorist threat and provide a legitimate alternative to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. That organization, which controls southern Lebanon, has refused to disarm, arguing that it is the only force that can defend the country against Israel...

...Some officials within the Pentagon and State Department have expressed concern about extensive military aid to a country so recently free of Syrian control and in which Hezbollah, which has close Syrian and Iranian ties, has continued to gain political power. And that has been a main concern for Israel, which has been lobbying for a lower level of support to remove the possibility that American tanks and helicopters might one day be used against it...

...These doubts, and the contrast with the robust American military aid to Israel, have provoked some anger in Lebanon. A television comedy here this week depicted American envoys handing out socks and toy airplanes to Lebanese generals...

...“It was like a police force, but undertrained and underequipped,” said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general. “Even the Special Forces are very young and inexperienced now, whereas Hezbollah has lots of experience.”

In fact, the army was deliberately kept weak by the country’s Syrian overseers, who did not want a strong alternative force. That was part of what allowed Hezbollah to grow into such a formidable power during the 1980s and 1990s, using advanced weaponry provided by Iran and Syria.

Still, officials at the State Department and the Pentagon say they are convinced that rebuilding Lebanon’s military is essential to peace efforts in the region.

Other nations are involved, including the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Belgium, Britain and Canada. There have even been rival offers of assistance from Russia, China and Iran. But so far the United States, which has long been the Lebanese military’s main source of outside support for weapons and training, says it will anchor the effort...

...American-driven audits have shown that almost nothing given to the army has ended up in Hezbollah’s hands...

...Lebanese commanders say they are anxious about the slow pace of American military support so far. Of the $410 million that has been committed since 2006, less than half has been delivered — mostly ammunition, communications equipment, Humvees, trucks, rifles, automatic grenade launchers and other light weapons, and spare parts, according to Lebanese and American military officials.

And it is heavier weapons that are most needed, Lebanese officials say. In particular, they want an air defense system, which would allow them to argue that they could completely replace Hezbollah as a warding force against Israel in the south...

...Mr. Straub, with the Pentagon, said the focus is still on identifying Lebanon’s exact military requirements and then finding the weapons to suit them. That means that although Lebanon has requested attack helicopters, for instance, it is not yet a question of approving a specific deal...

...Yet one State Department official said that conflicts in the administration are holding up any major deal, as some at the Pentagon and State Department are more eager to rebuild the Lebanon Armed Forces while others are reluctant to move too quickly, given Israel’s concerns...

...The Lebanese also want precision antitank missiles and a rebuilt fleet of tanks to replace their aging American and Soviet models. Specifically, they want surplus Vietnam-era M60 tanks that would be rebuilt with American parts and transferred to Lebanon from Jordan.
Also, see here. Reporting on the NY Times' piece, NOWLebanon noted the following:
On October 6, the inaugural US-Lebanon Joint Military Commission (JMC) was instigated by the Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr and US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long.

The JMC is intended to institutionalize the bilateral military relationship between the two countries, and it will provide an annual opportunity to commit to military cooperation goals and to review commitments made in the past year.

Participants in this year’s JMC discussed current and future military assistance to Lebanon, including the need for a broad range of military capabilities to confront terrorism.

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