Lebanon mulls Russia arms deal with Saudi cash
A Russian MI-28 helicopter fires rockets during joint Russian-Indian military exercises. Lebanon is working on a deal for Russian arms and air defense systems. (AFP/Andrew Mireyko)
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Lebanon is considering using a Saudi grant to buy much needed weapons and equipment from Moscow to bolster its Army amid a jihadist threat, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has said.
“There are talks on buying Russian arms and special equipment by Lebanon,” the World Tribune quoted Machnouk as saying during his visit to Moscow in late September to discuss weapons supplies to Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces.
He said a delegation from the army would visit Moscow later this month to discuss proposals.
Any deal would most likely be financed by the $1 billion Saudi donation that was announced by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in August.
Political sources last month told the The Daily Star that Hariri was working to revive 2010 arms negotiations with Moscow. The Russian ambassador confirmed at the time that talks were taking place without going into detail.
Lebanese officials told the US-based World Tribune newspaper that Lebanese Army’s Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Walid Suleiman would negotiate the arms deal with the Kremlin, adding that Moscow was ready to send advisers for training and mentoring.
“He [Suleiman] will be the one negotiating for which needs [Lebanon] can receive from the gift by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Mashnouk said.
Saudi Arabia has pledged two donations to Lebanese military and security forces since 2013, the first worth $3 billion of French weapons and equipment, while the second was for an immediate deal to reinforce security agencies and the military.
Through the deal with Russia, the Lebanese military could receive advanced models of Russian helicopters and air defense systems, said World Tribune in an article published Friday.
“The Lebanese military has a lot of experience working with Russian weapons,” Mashnouk said. “So they will soon determine what is needed.”
According to the report, officials said the Lebanese military was in urgent need of helicopters, night-vision systems, sniper rifles and reconnaissance systems to battle ISIS and other extremist groups. They said Beirut was still waiting for Riyadh to send money for military and security purchases.
Army Chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi had announced last week that the $3 billion Saudi aid had not come through yet.
French media reported that Saudi Arabia was seeking assurances that Hezbollah will not benefit from the weapons, which is the most common concern for western states seeking to support the Army’s capacities.
The Saudis “want to wait until Lebanon has a president who conforms to their interests and they can get guarantees that the weapons won’t end up in Hezbollah’s hands,” an anonymous source was saying Friday in Le Figaro.
“I don’t know what happened,” Kahwagi told Malbrunot. “The Lebanese have done their part of the deal. I signed a list of requested arms with the French, and we sent it to the Saudis. I went to Saudi Arabia, and we had very good meetings with both Saudi and French delegations. Now we’re just waiting for the Saudi signature.”
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