NO POLITICAL CONDITIONS ON RUSSIAN ARMS SUPPLIES FOR LEBANON – Officials: ‘There are no obstacles in terms of equipping the army’

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on December 10, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

by Andrew Wander – Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: Russia will not attach political conditions to any future supplies of military hardware to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), senior defense officials said over the weekend. Speaking after a meeting on Saturday with Mikhail Dimitriev, Russia’s military co-operation chief, Defense Minister Elias Murr said: “There are no obstacles in terms of equipping the army. We prepared for my visit to Russia next week.”

Murr said the path was clear for discussing with his Russian counterpart in Moscow “what could be provided to the LAF.”

A senior Defense Ministry source told The Daily Star the types of weapons that could be supplied have not yet been discussed, but insisted there would be “no political conditions” attached to any arms deals between Russia and Lebanon.

The source said LAF commanders are currently deciding what weapons they would like to obtain from Russia, and said they will meet with Murr before his trip to Moscow, scheduled for December 15, to make him aware of their requests.

Speaking on Saturday, Dimitriev said Russia is keen to encourage regional stability and considers “it very important to see a strong LAF.”

He said that Moscow wishes to “provide a new pulse to our bilateral relations in the military and technical field.”

Dimitriev also met with parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, whose own visit to Russia in mid-November sparked controversy. Hariri was reported by Russian media to have offered Lebanese recognition for the Russian-backed breakaway Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Hariri as saying that US support to the LAF was limited to light weapons and that Lebanon needed a supplier of more powerful military hardware, including “tanks and artillery.”

The US says it is seeking to bolster Lebanese state forces so that they can establish their authority throughout Lebanon’s territory. Washington considers Hizbullah, which has a strong presence in parts of the country, a “terrorist organization” and believes the best way to undermine it is to build up the power of central state authority.

The Pentagon insists that policy is designed to strengthen the LAF within the country, not to create a “juggernaut” that could challenge regional stability. In particular, Washington does not supply weapons that would challenge Israel’s “qualitative edge” in military hardware, a Pentagon official said last week.

Lebanon is courting several potential arms suppliers apart from the US. Last week, President Michel Sleiman asked the German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, for alternative tanks but German officials have said the request is unlikely to be granted because of a national law preventing the sales of arms to conflict zones.

On a trip to Iran at the end of November, Sleiman was reported to have struck a deal with defense officials in Tehran that could involve the supply of medium-range rockets and other heavy weapons to the LAF.

Murr is expected to visit Syria soon to discuss defense issues. His trip will come after Jean Kahwaji, the commander of the LAF, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus to discuss military co-operation, but unlike Kahwaji’s trip, Murr said an agenda would be agreed on in advance and submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

Analysts say that the current round of LAF rearmament is the most substantial since the 1980s, and that the range of potential suppliers demonstrates the fine balance of power in the region.



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