Saudi Arabia has just decided to give the Lebanese military $1 billion in military aid, mostly in ammunition and small arms. This is on top of the $3 billion grant for equipment given to the Lebanese Armed Forces by the Saudis back at the tail end of 2013. This compares with about $500 million provided by the US from 2009 to 2013.
Although the Lebanese defense budget only amounts to just $1.2 billion annually — less than a third of the total amount of Saudi military aid — the Saudi government is now apparently attempting a new and novel campaign to armor Lebanese vehicles entirely in Saudi currency (at least metaphorically speaking).
A February 2014 report called “Lebanon at the Crossroads” by Aram Nerguizian, a Senior Fellow for Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that “…deterring Israel or Syria, establishing a definitive monopoly on the use of military force and achieving lasting border demarcation and control remain unsustainable either in terms of national policy, or in terms of resourcing.” Which is to say that the Lebanese army isn’t big enough to tell any of the other opposing militaries in the region — including Hezbollah, which runs its own chunk of Lebanon almost like a separate country — to sit down and shut up when they come knocking.
This latest dollop of cash has a lot more to do with the fact that the Islamic State, which has recently shown a noticeable lack of concern about what anyone else has to say about national borders, recently bopped over into Lebanon to go raise hell, shoot up, and finally occupy a small town called Arsal in the northeast of the country.
Arsal has been a key location for both refugees fleeing Syria, as well as fighters taking a powder from the fighting. Border towns have a long and well-known role as refuges for both combatant and non-combatant alike, and can normally avoid the tides of war just over the border, since blowing up stuff in someone else’s country is considered a major no-no if you don’t actually intend to fight a war with them.
In and around the Levant and/or Mesopotamia, the Islamic State is a veritable Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger, even among jihadists of the takfiri bent — they have a pretty shocking lack of regard for what anyone else has to say about anything. They don’t care about borders. They don’t care about Sykes-Picot. And they sure don’t care that Arsal is in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese government is about the only group in that region that the Saudis are actually on good terms with. So, now that the Islamic State — a mortal foe of Saudi Arabia — is on the prowl in Lebanon, apparently the Saudis felt it wouldn’t be cool to just leave the Lebanese government hanging. Even though the Lebanese armed forces aren’t really a force to be reckoned with, the Saudis likely figured that it might not hurt to at least have a passably well-equipped counterterrorism force in the area while everything is going to hell.
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