Security

Global support for Lebanese army affirms its key role

By Nohad Topalian

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Spain supplied the Lebanese army with 19 tonnes of food that arrived aboard a Spanish plane on June 21. [Lebanese Army Directorate of Guidance]

BEIRUT -- As it prepares to celebrate the 76th anniversary of its founding on Sunday (August 1), the Lebanese army is reeling from the impact of political and economic crises but standing strong, with international help.

Like their compatriots, Lebanese soldiers are facing food shortages and other hardships as the value of their salaries declines amid the currency's sharp drop.

A regular soldier earns a monthly salary of around 1.2 million LBP, which is $800 at the official exchange rate but only about $60 on the black market.

Towards the middle of last year, the army said it had scrapped meat from the meals offered to on-duty soldiers, due to rising food prices.

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On July 8, Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, dispatched two planes carrying 70 tonnes of food and medical supplies for the Lebanese army. [Lebanese Army Directorate of Guidance]

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Food aid sent to Lebanon from Qatar will help the army cope with the difficult economic conditions in Lebanon. [Lebanese Army Directorate of Guidance]

The current circumstances have put unprecedented pressure on soldiers, who also face the added challenge of maintaining stability to keep Lebanon from descending into chaos.

On August 4, the country will mark the first anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, which killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the city.

The port blast set off a chain of events, including the resignation of the government, which has seen people turning to the military institution to ensure security and stability, after they lost confidence in the ruling political class.

Strong international support

As the crisis worsened and the military's challenges mounted, Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun sought help from the French government.

France hosted a United Nations-backed donor conference on June 17 to secure emergency aid for the army, with around 20 countries, including the United States, European Union member states and Gulf states taking part.

Nations that stepped up to help Lebanon's military through the crisis include Spain, which sent 19 tonnes of food to the Lebanese army at the end June, and Qatar, which will provide the Lebanese armed forces with 70 tonnes of food a month.

The United States also continues to provide strong support for the Lebanese military, providing $120 million this year to support the military's operations and capabilities -- an increase of $15 million over last year.

Last month, the United States also provided $59 million as a reimbursement to the Lebanese armed forces for security expenses incurred in 2018.

A US Central Command (CENTCOM) envoy visited Lebanon for two weeks in late June and early July to review upgrades to the border security systems installed at sites controlled by the army's land and sea border regiments.

Affirmation of army's role

International support to the Lebanese army underscores and affirms the widespread confidence in its performance and also the need to enhance its capabilities, observers said.

Sources in the Lebanese Army Command said the international support provided to the country's military institution is very important at this stage.

It is an international affirmation that the Lebanese army is the linchpin to maintaining national stability, they said, adding that they are betting on it playing a major role because they do not want to see Lebanon collapse.

According to a military source, the international community has been investing in the Lebanese military for years, and the United States has been a key donor.

"The United States has not stopped supporting the military institution, and continues to support it," the source said.

In addition to the $120 million in aid this year, the United States also provides the Lebanese military with periodic logistical assistance, he said, to enhance the army's capabilities in responding to external threats.

Lebanon is facing the most severe political and economic crises in its history, the source added, noting that it is essential to ensure its stability at this time.

The international community is betting on the army to maintain stability, and is providing it with support, "which is beginning to translate on the ground with the arrival of food and medical aid, spare parts for machinery and fuel".

Extending Lebanese sovereignty

"Every support provided to the army by the international community is good because it affirms confidence in it and enhances its military capabilities," said strategic expert Maroun Hitti, a retired Lebanese military officer.

"What is urgently required is support to ensure the steadfastness of military personnel by doubling their monthly salaries to help them cope with the repercussions of the suffocating economic crisis in the country," Hitti said.

The national crisis has been exacerbated by the extensive smuggling of foodstuffs and fuel to Syria carried out by armed militias "to generate profit at the expense of the money, health and food of the Lebanese", said Lebanese Centre for Research and Consulting director Hassan Qutb.

Many Lebanese contend that the Iran-backed Hizbullah has been implementing Iran's agenda in Lebanon through its entry into the Syria war and its smuggling of fuel, foodstuffs and medical supplies to Syria. They also accuse the party of appropriating the international community's aid to the Lebanese people.

"Supporting the army allows it to fulfill its role and mission without being influenced by parties that do not want a stable and prosperous Lebanon, but rather seek to use it as an arena for settling conflicts," Qutb said.

Support for the army helps to ensure the state's sovereignty in all areas of Lebanon and prevents the use of border crossings for smuggling, he said.

It also helps to ensure that Lebanon does not become mired in internal conflicts, and prevents its descent into security chaos in the absence of a political solution.

The support provided by various countries "underscores the fact that the army is a national army that does not operate under the command of a specific sponsoring state or serve regional projects or international axes", Qutb said.

Instead, it is trusted by many countries, who "rushed to stand by it during these difficult circumstances, seeing it as a guarantee of Lebanon's unity and revival", he said.

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