Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Donating to the Lebanese Army | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I enjoyed the call made by the Lebanese Defense Minister [Elias Murr] to raise funds to finance the Lebanese army, for this is the first time that I have heard of any army in the world that intends to arm and prepare its troops through donations. The Lebanese army is in a difficult situation, for it is one of the most neglected and unfairly treated armies in the world.

The Lebanese army uses out of date equipment from the Soviet Union era, as well as equipment left over from the US presence in Lebanon. Most of the Lebanese army’s arsenal came from contributions from countries such as France, Syria, Iran, the UAE, and the UK. Of course, each donor country has their own interests that they are looking out for. Former Lebanese Defense Minister Michel Murr refused a pledge of $100 million from the US, saying that they would only accept aid from the US that did not come with conditions. Of course, this independent national position is admirable, but what about the rest of the donors? To compensate for [the loss of] the $100 million from the US, the Lebanese Defense Minister [Elias Murr], and his father and predecessor, Michel Murr, put their hands in their own pockets and deposited $670,000 in a new fund specifically for equipping the Lebanese army, and asked others to make donations to this fund. This was a noble stance taken by the Minister, but where are the rest of the donors?

The crisis with the Lebanese army is not due to it being ill-equipped, nor does this concern the army’s need to develop, but rather the problem is the army’s position in the structure of the state, and the lack of it being acknowledged as the only state instate with the right to bear arms. Weapons in Lebanon can be obtained directly by being purchased or through foreign aid; however what is the point if the Lebanese army does not fulfil the natural role of the military of defending the country? How can there be an army, and then several rival armed militias alongside this, some of whom have greater numbers and are better equipped, like Hezbollah? In Lebanon, the army is always on one party or another’s wrong side, whether the army is entering into a war or avoiding one. During the last war, the Lebanese army was obliged to surrender to the Israelis due to the difference in the strength of forces, and some parties called for the Lebanese army to be taken to criminal court [for surrendering]. Meanwhile during the latest clash over the Israeli forces cutting down the tree [in Southern Lebanon], certain parties said that it was the duty of the Lebanese army to confront the enemy, even though the army is not in charge of that particular part of the Lebanese border. This difficult situation is not new, but the legacy of successive political conflicts and war.

Historically speaking, the Lebanese army was created under interesting political circumstances. Although the Lebanese army was established after World War II, its core fought on the side of the French Vichy government on the side of Nazi Germany. Following the defeat of the Arabs loyal to the Vichy government, a counter Lebanese force was formed by the Free French forces on the other side. This new army was led by Colonel Fuad Chehab, and this marked the beginning of Lebanese independence.

If the army was a strong national institution maybe this would reduce the number of wars in Lebanon, and reduce the manner in which Lebanon is being easily exploited by countries in the region and their agents. Lebanon has been burdened by the Palestinian, Syrian, and Israeli forces, and now the militias of Hezbollah, the Lebanese forces, Islamic extremist groups, and others. Therefore even if the 50,000 Lebanese troops were equipped with the best and most advanced type of weapons, this army would still not have a clear role with regards to protecting Lebanon from external aggression and internal strife. One of the reasons that may have prompted the Americans to spend so generously to equip the Lebanese army – having invested more than $600 million to date – is because they think that the army will one day be strong enough to eliminate militias such as Hezbollah. However this is unrealistic when looking at the current situation in Lebanon; for the army will remain weak without a political agreement on granting the military powers, not just weapons.