US destroyer USS Ramage's recent visit to the port of Beirut can be seen as an affirmation of continued US support for Lebanon and the Lebanese military, military experts said.
The mid-September visit, which took place at a critical time in the region, affirms the stalwart US support for the Lebanese government, and its determination to keep Iranian influence in check, they said.
USS Ramage docked at the port of Beirut on the afternoon of September 14th, and remained there for one day.
US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard and US Navy 5th Fleet commander Vice Admiral James Malloy hosted an on-board reception, attended by US and Lebanese military officials, as well as diplomats, politicians and lawmakers.
The Lebanese ministers of defence and interior were among the guests.
A US embassy statement said USS Ramage docked at Beirut "for a one-day goodwill visit on the sidelines of its participation in ongoing efforts to ensure freedom of navigation and free-flow commerce in the eastern Mediterranean".
"I think this remarkable US ship docked in this remarkable Lebanese city already speaks volumes about the partnership between the US and Lebanon," Richard said in a speech at the reception. "That is the important word: partnership."
"In speaking about our relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces, people often focus on the specific military equipment that we have provided to the LAF -- aircraft, artillery, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvees, ammunition," she said.
"However, our military relationship is much broader than just equipment, and this ship visit is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how far our partnership has come."
Malloy pointed to the vessel's participation in a 2018 naval exercise with the Lebanese army, which demonstrated both nations' commitment to freedom of navigation and to promoting long-term security and stability.
The Resolute Response drill, conducted at Jounieh Naval Base between June 25th and July 6th, 2018, sought to enhance military relations and strengthen the partnership between the US and Lebanon.
Co-operation between militaries
"This is the first time in 30 years that a US warship of this size has visited Beirut," a military source with the Lebanese Army Command told Al-Mashareq.
"We see this as a clear message of support to the Lebanese army, and there are intentions by the US to provide further support to develop the army’s naval capabilities on all levels," the source said.
The docking of the USS Ramage in Beirut "affirms the US support for the Lebanese military", said Brig. Gen. Richard Dagher, a retired Lebanese officer.
It affirms "the close co-operation between the two armies in the context of confronting the major challenges facing the region", he told Al-Mashareq.
"The close and historic relationship between the Lebanese and US armies has become axiomatic, and this compels US foreign policy to consider the Lebanese army as a principal partner in the region," he said.
This co-operation ranges from fighting terrorism to supporting the Lebanese army in its mission to maintain the stability of the Lebanese border, he said.
The warship’s docking in the port of Beirut "is very important, because it came at a moment of considerable tension in the region", he said.
It served as a reminder "of the tremendous naval power the US has in the region, and its ability to protect the stability of strategic sea lanes", Dagher said, and as a warning message "to those trying to tamper with these waterways".
But the most important message conveyed by the visit to Beirut is a clear signal of support for Lebanon, he added, in the context of regional tensions with Iran.
'Strong and unshakable' support
With the USS Ramage's visit, "the US wants to inform all those concerned that its support of the Lebanese government is strong and unshakable", strategy analyst Tony Issa told Al-Mashareq.
"It complements the successive visits made by its political and diplomatic staff to Beirut," he said, which most recently included a visit from Marshall Billingslea, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the US Treasury.
The vessel's docking in Beirut and its previous participation in joint exercises with the Lebanese army is a reminder of the US's traditional support for the Lebanese military, which has included both equipment and training, Issa said.
He noted that the Lebanese army has made significant achievements in recent years, with US support, which include its liberation of the border area with Syria from "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements in 2017.
The US message is particularly important in the context of current tensions with Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, which include Hizbullah, he said.