• France's news in English

France arms Lebanon for Isis fight

AFP · 19 Apr 2015, 10:55

Published: 19 Apr 2015 10:55 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Anti-tank guided missiles are set to arrive at an air force base in Beirut, overseen by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Lebanese counterpart, Samir Mokbel.

France is expected to deliver 250 combat and transport vehicles, seven Cougar helicopters, three small corvette warships and a range of surveillance and communications equipment over four years as part of the $3 billion (€2.8 billion) modernization programme.

It is being entirely funded by Saudi Arabia, which is keen to see Lebanon's army defend its borders against jihadist groups, particularly the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra, instead of leaving the job to Hezbollah militants, who are backed by its regional rival, Iran.

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," said a French defence official.

Since the conflict in neighbouring Syria broke out in 2011, Lebanon has faced mounting spill-over threats, first from the millions of refugees pouring across the border and increasingly from jihadists.

"There are an estimated 3,000 armed militants based on our border, waiting for the moment to penetrate into the Bekaa valley," said Hisham Jaber, a former general now at the Middle East Centre for the Study of Public Relations in Beirut.

"They haven't come for tourism or to go skiing."

Former colonial power France is actually a late-comer to the conflict, with almost all Lebanon's international support coming from the United States and Britain in recent years.

France only won the contract to supply the Lebanese army, argued analyst Aram Nerguizian, because Saudi Arabia had been frustrated by US and British refusal to attack the Syrian regime in 2013.

"It was good fortune for the French, but they have a lot to prove. The momentum of the US and UK defence programmes in Lebanon is far more consolidated," said Nerguizian, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The challenge has been to find French military equipment that Lebanon actually needs, he said, and to ensure it can be integrated with their existing weapon systems.

Nerguizian said Lebanon had turned down France's Gazelle attack helicopter, Leclerc tank and larger warships, either because they were too expensive to maintain or not suited to the combat environment.

Instead, the focus is likely to be on radar capabilities, and command-and-control systems, which the Lebanese army currently lack, as well as transport aircraft.

"We urgently need helicopters. We are currently trying to transport elite units by truck," said Jaber.

The Cougar helicopters and corvette warships must first be built, and the first are not expected for at least 30 months.

A key problem has been France's unexplained reluctance to discuss the details of its modernisation programme with the US and Britain, said Nerguizian.

"They have perplexed their UK and US partners by not being clear about what is on the list," he said. "They need to be complementary or it becomes a problem."

Washington has provided around three-quarters of Lebanon's foreign military aid over the past decade -- some $700 million - as well as Special Forces teams to train its elite units, according to IHS Jane's, a London-based think tank.

Britain has provided training facilities as well as watch towers and forward operating bases along the border with Syria.

Story continues below…

This has led to a dramatic improvement in the Lebanese army's capabilities, said Nerguizian.

"Compared with just three years ago, it's like night and day. They have gone from a constabulary police force to being the only military in the world that is defending its frontiers against ISIS," he said.

But working with Lebanon is never simple. The sharp divisions between its religious and ethnic communities have been deepened by conflicting views on the Syrian war.

Hezbollah, which is a powerful political force in Lebanon, sent its fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last year, but many Lebanese still deeply resent the Assad regime which effectively colonised the country up to 2005.

Meanwhile, Israel remains concerned about any military assistance that might bolster a regional rival or fall into the hands of Hezbollah, which fought a short and brutal war against Israel as recently as 2006.

"The Lebanese army is already well-infiltrated by Hezbollah," said an Israeli official on condition of anonymity. "But we understand the necessity of reinforcing the capacity of the Lebanese army."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available