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Gulf Sheiks vs Iran Mullahs
Saudi Arabia's Gambit

The Lebanese military, considered to be the most broadly representative institution in a country starkly divided into rival religious and political groups, got a major boost from Saudi Arabia last weekend. President Michel Suleiman made the announcement on live television:

The Saudi king decided to give a generous, well-appreciated grant to Lebanon amounting to $3 billion for the Lebanese army, which will allow it to buy new and modern weapons. The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly…

President Hollande, visiting Riyadh, declared, “If there are demands that are addressed to us, we will satisfy them.” It will be the biggest ever grant for Lebanon’s armed forces.

And Lebanon needs it. Flooded with refugees from the Syrian civil war and preoccupied by street battles and assassinations in its largest cities, the Lebanese state is weak, divided, and disordered. Hezbollah is better armed and organized than the Lebanese national army, and is playing a direct role in the war in Syria. The Lebanese military struggles to control the country’s international borders. Radical preachers have taken advantage of Beirut’s paralyzed government and a frightened, depressed society with fiery sectarian speeches. On Friday, a massive car bomb exploded in central Beirut, killing Mohamed Chatah, a liberal former finance minister who was a prominent critic of Hezbollah and the Assad regime. On Monday, Lebanese soldiers fired antiaircraft guns at Syrian helicopters for the first time.

Chatah left behind an open letter addressed to the president of Iran, published by the Wall Street Journal. He named the threats to Lebanese security:

It is an undisputed fact that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard continues to maintain a strategic military relationship with Hezbollah[…]

As we are sure you would agree, the presence of any armed militia in parallel to the legitimate armed forces of the state and operating outside the state’s control and political authority is not only in conflict with the Lebanese constitution, but also with the very definition of a sovereign state—any state[…]

Hezbollah’s insistence on maintaining an independent military organization, under the banner of “Islamic Resistance,” has been a major obstacle in the face of much-needed national efforts to strengthen state institutions and to put an end to the legacy of the civil war and the spread weapons throughout the country. This has, inevitably, also weakened Lebanon’s national unity and exposed the country to the widening sectarian fault lines in the region, and has contributed to the rise of religious extremism and militancy.

This is just one piece of the several moves by Middle Eastern monarchies in recent days. On Sunday, Qatar signed an aid deal worth $1.25 billion for Morocco, where the King warmly welcomed assistance from the Gulf to help “weather ‘Arab Spring’ protests.” On Boxing Day in Petra, a Kuwaiti government minister hailed his country’s strong economic and political connection with Jordan, which just assumed the rotating leadership of the UN Security Council; Jordan’s relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the minister said, was “historical.” We can also expect to see increasing Gulf support for the sort of Syrian rebels Washington doesn’t like.

That’s the Middle East today: Gulf monarchs fighting against “Arab Spring” movements on one side and Iran on the other.

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  • TommyTwo

    A gambit indeed. The problem is not so much the Lebanese army’s abilities, but rather what it will do if push comes to shove.

  • AD_Rtr_OS

    Buying weapons from France, with Saudi money.
    Another positive result from Obama’s Smart Diplomacy.
    I guess he should have bowed more deeply.

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