Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Lebanese government will not make a decision on accepting or rejecting controversial military assistance from Iran amid fears of inciting a political crisis in the country and upsetting the balance of power in the region, Lebanese sources close to the government informed Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday.
The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, announced that Tehran had offered to provide military equipment to the Lebanese army to assist the country in its war on terror during a visit to Beirut on September 30.
Iran offered to send the Lebanese army anti-tank missiles and launchers, heavy machine guns, ammunition, and other equipment, according to local media reports.
The Lebanese army has struggled to contain the spillover from the crisis in neighboring Syria, which has seen as many as 1 million refugees seek shelter in the small Mediterranean country. Members of the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda offshoot active in Syria, recently attacked the town of Arsal on the Lebanese–Syrian border, taking a number of Lebanese soldiers prisoner. Violence between members of different sects and communities in Lebanon backing different sides in the Syrian war has also led to the deployment of Lebanese troops as domestic peacekeepers.
Washington has called on Lebanon to postpone the decision to accept or reject the Iranian military aid, well-informed Lebanese sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The Americans have told Lebanese officials that Beirut must not rush the Iranian aid until after they have received all the other aid, and then if they need further assistance they can re-examine the Iranian offer,” a well-informed Lebanese source said.
“The Americans did not announce their rejection of this offer, but called for Lebanon to postpone making a decision on it,” the source added.
However, Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, citing an anonymous official, reported that Washington had threatened to cut off all aid to Lebanon should Beirut accept Iranian military aid.
Speaking to reporters on Monday on a visit to Geneva, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani claimed that the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, supported Iranian military assistance. “The Islamic Republic of Iran aims to support the security of the region and Lebanon, and has no other intention in this regard. Such issues will naturally be settled between the two governments,” Larijani said.
However, government sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that Prime Minister Tammam Salam does not intend to put the divisive offer up for discussion. Lebanon is heading towards critical parliamentary elections and is in the middle of a presidential crisis, with the country’s two major political coalitions, the March 8 and March 14 alliances, unable to come to an agreement over a consensus figure to replace former president Michel Suleiman, who left office in late May.
Relations between the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance and Future Movement-led March 14 Alliance are at their lowest ebb amid increasing sectarian violence in Lebanon. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah visited the Beqaa Valley on Tuesday, pledging to defeat Sunni terrorist groups that have an increasing presence in the country as part of the spillover from the Syrian conflict.
“Victory will be the ally of the mujahideen [those who take part in jihad] in their fight against takfirist [those declaring others as infidels] and terrorist groups the same way it was their ally in the confrontation against the Israeli enemy,” Nasrallah said.
A source close to Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, said: “When this issue [Iranian military assistance] is put forward to the cabinet for discussion, then every action will have a reaction. While if they postpone this, then there will be a reaction to that as well.”