Lebanon welcomes first shipment of $3 billion in French arms

Published April 21st, 2015 - 06:07 GMT
Lebanese Army chief Jean General Jean Kahwaji, Lebanese Defence Minister Samir Moqbel, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri and French Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the hand-over ceremony of a shipment of French weapons to the Lebanese Army in Beirut. (Image: AFP/Joseph Eid)
Lebanese Army chief Jean General Jean Kahwaji, Lebanese Defence Minister Samir Moqbel, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri and French Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the hand-over ceremony of a shipment of French weapons to the Lebanese Army in Beirut. (Image: AFP/Joseph Eid)

Lebanon Monday received its first shipment of French weapons financed by a $3 billion Saudi arms grant announced nearly a year and a half ago.

In a ceremony marking the arrival of the long-anticipated and badly needed weapons, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel expressed confidence in the Army's ability to protect the country from extremists.

“Lebanon's victory against terrorism is a victory for all countries threatened by this terrorism,” Moqbel said in a joint news conference at the Beirut airport air base with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The ceremony was also attended by Lebanese Army Commander Jean Kahwagi, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri, and many other officials.

Le Drian saidFrance "has helped and will help Lebanon not to be dragged into chaos surrounding it," adding that French military assistance to Lebanon was a long-term process extending 10 years.

He said the French shipments would include dozens of armored vehicles and modern artillery warfare such the “Caesar” 155mm truck-mounted artillery system as well as many other types of weapons.

A senior Lebanese military official had told The Daily Star that the first arms shipment would be mainly anti-tank guided missiles.

Le Drian said France would also deploy 60 French officers in Lebanon to train soldiers on the use of the new weapons.

Kahwagi has said the military aid Lebanon received Monday as part of the $3 billion Saudi grant will “[enhance] the Lebanese Army and increase its readiness and strength to confront terrorism and defend Lebanon’s borders.”

He said the French weapons “will greatly improve [the Army’s] situation.”

Prime Minister Tammam Salam expressed gratitude in a statement Monday to French President Francois Hollande for his “genuine friendship towards Lebanon and its people.”

He also thanked Riyadh for the donation.

“We emphasize on this occasion our pride in the brotherly relationship between Lebanon andSaudi Arabia and our commitment to cementing the relationship and distancing it from any defects,” he said.

The Saudi grant was announced in December 2013 by then-president Michel Sleiman.

In a report from Paris, AFP said France is expected to deliver 250 combat and transport vehicles, seven Cougar attack helicopters, three small corvette warships and a range of surveillance and communication equipment over four years as part of the $3 billion modernization program.

The contract also promises seven years of training for the 70,000-strong Lebanese Army and 10 years of equipment maintenance.

“This project is to help us re-establish a Lebanese Army capable of responding to new security realities,” AFP quoted a French defense official as saying.

The project is being entirely funded by Saudi Arabia.

The arrival of the first shipment comes after an initial agreement was signed by French President François Hollande and Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz.

An additional protocol agreement for the Saudi-funded arms deal was signed Saturday between senior Lebanese Army officers and officials from the French company ODAS. The protocol agreement was signed in the presence of Kahwagi at his office in Yarze.

Acting on behalf of the French state, ODAS negotiates and signs government-to-government contracts for defense and security systems and services. The company monitors contract execution in close cooperation with theDefense Ministry while continuously liaising between customer and contractors to guarantee successful program delivery with the full backing of Paris.

In addition to the $3 billion military aid, Saudi Arabia has also promised an additional $1 billion grant to purchase arms and equipment to the Lebanese Army and security forces to help them in the ongoing battle against terrorism.

The French arms delivery comes amid growing fears that ISIS andNusra Front militants, entrenched in mountainous caves on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal, are preparing to launch a major offensive against Lebanon once the snow in the mountains has melted.

The Army has frequently clashed with Syria-based militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front. The two groups, which fought Lebanese troops in Arsal last August, are still holding 25 soldiers and policemen hostage after killing four of their captives.

In addition to France, the United States has also supplied the Lebanese Army with more than $1 billion in military aid over the last decade. Britain has provided training facilities as well as watch towers and forward operating bases along the border with Syria.

Future Movement chiefSaad Hariri thanked Saudi kind Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz Monday for the Saudi “keenness on Lebanon and its stability,” and for what the kingdom had offered the Lebanese Army in aid.

According to a statement released by Hariri’s media office, the former Prime Minister’s visit to King Salman was in light of the arrival of the first shipment of French arms.


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