Saudi Arabia has given the Lebanese military $1 billion, and this gift may be aimed as much at Iran as at ISIS. Defense News reports:
After days of intense fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamist fighters from Syria near the Lebanese town of Arsal, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has offered an additional $1 billion in military aid to the Lebanese government.
The latest billion-dollar aid package comes on top of the $3 billion in French military equipment that the Saudi government pledged in December. The aid numbers dwarf Lebanon’s own defense budget, estimated at $1.2 billion in 2013.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced the latest funding on Tuesday night after paying a visit to King Abdullah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh is definitely worried about ISIS, enough so that it has sent troops to its border in case the radical group gets any ideas. But by choosing Hariri, a Sunni ex-Prime Minister with close ties to both Saudi Arabia and France, as its messenger—and by choosing the Lebanese military as its beneficiary—the Kingdom is doing more than fighting ISIS. It is building up a Sunni political faction and buying Lebanese military goodwill to check Iranian influence in Lebanon.
Lebanon’s military has been accused of being too close to Shiite, Iranian-backed Hezbollah since the start of the Syrian Civil War. By quintupling the Lebanese budget in the past nine months, Saudi Arabia may be seeking to counteract that, many Middle Eastern observers suspect:
Saudi Arabia could have offered this financial aid to build up a Lebanese Sunni militia and would have had many reasons for doing so, from fighting the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to deterring the Shiite Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence forces…
It’s expected that supporting the army and strengthening it will anger groups such as Hezbollah. Hezbollah prefers the creation of Sunni militias so it can justify its existence as an armed Shiite militia. It prefers this scenario over strengthening the Lebanese army – something that can legitimately and militarily threaten it raison d’etre…
Strengthening the Lebanese army means weakening Hezbollah’s scheme to dominate Lebanon and turn it into an Iranian emirate.
If this is the case, it reinforces an emerging entente of nations in the Middle East that stand against both Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and ISIS’s radical Sunni universalism, in favor of a Westphalian order: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the smaller Gulf emirates, and Israel. This alignment proved crucial in determining the course of the recent Gazan conflict. If it holds together through the upcoming peace negotiations, it will be a new factor to be reckoned with in the Middle East—and definitely an important dynamic to keep an eye on.