Procurement: Saudi Charity Loses To Iranian Threats

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March 12, 2016: As of February Saudi Arabia is suspending military aid to Lebanon. This is largely because the Lebanese government has been unable to curb Iranian use of Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The $3 billion in weapons and equipment is being supplied for by France, paid for by Saudi Arabia and was arranged back in 2013. Deliveries began in early 2015 and were to have been completed by 2018. Training and maintenance services were to continue into the 2020s. The Saudis are also suspending a separate deal to supply a billion dollars to modernize the internal security forces.

Other Gulf Arab oil states showed their agreement with Saudi Arabia by warning their citizens to stay out of Lebanon or banned travel to Lebanon altogether. Arab oil states are also threatening to withdraw billions of dollars they keep in Lebanese banks. These harsh measures come because the Lebanese government continues to be paralyzed by the local Hezbollah militia and other pro-Iran factions. That has prevented (for over a year) a new president from being selected and made it likely that some of this new equipment would be taken over by pro-Iran factions.

The Lebanese Hezbollah militia owes Iran a lot and is increasingly called on to fight outside Lebanon in support of Iranian interests, especially in Syria. The Iranian supported Shia militia has much to lose if the Syrian Assad government falls and has many enemies inside Lebanon who want Hezbollah destroyed and their control of southern Lebanon eliminated. The Syrian rebels are threatening the Lebanese government with post war retaliation if some effort is not made to restrain Hezbollah. That would mean civil war in Lebanon, even though most Lebanese are still haunted by the 1975-90 civil war (during which Iran created Hezbollah). That has prevented another round of civil war so far.

The Saudi deal was to provide different benefits for the three countries involved. For France it boosts their defense industries and the centuries old French desire to preserve the power of Arab Christians in that region. For the Saudis it is another chance to hurt Iranian military and political power by making Hezbollah less of a threat to the Lebanese armed forces (which is dominated by Christians). That has not worked out but the Saudis are willing to resume the aid if the Sunni-Christian majority can reduce the power of the Shia minority (and their Iran backed Hezbollah militia) that currently exercises a veto over anything the government wants to do.

The Saudi deal involved nearly 300 vehicles (about half of them armored), 155mm artillery, anti-tank missiles, three warships (corvettes), five patrol boats, six armed trainer aircraft and seven helicopters. The aid package also included a lot of troop training and maintenance support as well as communications and other equipment. The U.S. has also provided a billion dollars in aid since 2001. The 70,000 strong Lebanese military needs all the help it can get and the government wants to curb the power of Hezbollah but doesn’t want to trigger another civil war. Hezbollah knows that and because this group has often used terror tactics in the past, makes a convincing case that it would fight rather than submit.

 


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