On a trip to Lebanon last week, US Senator Christopher Murphy had promised to find additional means “to support” the Lebanese population and the Lebanese army. On September 7, Murphy kept his promise after US President Joe Biden authorized Secretary of State Antony Blinken to raise a total of $ 47 million to provide aid to the Lebanese military.
It appears that American aid is aimed at preventing the implosion of the Lebanese army. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was part of Murphy’s delegation, admitted it, telling reporters: “Lebanon is in free fall… we’ve seen this movie before and it’s a horror story… but the good one. news is that it can, should and hopefully be avoided.
Lebanon has been in chaos for years. However, last year’s Beirut port explosion rocked the country, and now even officers in the Lebanese army, one of the country’s most trusted and respected institutions, are receiving around 400 dollars per month, compared to $ 4,000. A non-commissioned member only gets $ 50 a month.
Mohammed Fahmi, outgoing Lebanese interior minister, told the Lebanese daily Al Joumhouria on August 31 that the desertion rate from the Internal Security Forces, the Lebanese gendarmerie, has recently increased due to financial problems. A general collapse in Lebanon occurs, especially as the unpaid and / or poorly paid security forces no longer respond to street mobilisations and urban violence.
The Lebanese are increasingly frustrated as the lines at gas stations are endless, power cuts are more frequent, bakeries and restaurants are closing due to lack of electricity and pharmacies are running out of medicines .
With the collapse of life in Lebanon and the seemingly irreconcilable financial situation, sectarianism is creeping into society again. August was marked by clashes between Sunni Arab tribes and the Iranian-backed political and paramilitary group Hezbollah, tensions between Druze villagers and Hezbollah supporters, and acts of vandalism against a Christian village.
In this context, American aid would therefore be more than welcome in Beirut because it allows the last respected pillar of the Lebanese state, the army, not to collapse. A collapse of the Lebanese army would likely spark sectarian clashes between the country’s various religious communities as they seek to protect and advance their own interests.
Washington increased its aid to the Lebanese army by 12% last May, reaching $ 120 million in 2021. This financial support is multisectoral and aims to improve the army’s equipment – from armored vehicles to combat helicopters and night vision systems. Washington is also trying to train Lebanese soldiers, and since 2014, more than 6,000 military personnel have received training in the United States.
Other Western countries, such as the former French colonial master, are also privileged partners of the Lebanese army. French Defense Minister Florence Parly organized a virtual meeting on June 17 to bring together emergency aid to the Lebanese army, a “pillar institution, which prevents the security situation in the country from deteriorating sharply”, according to her. cabinet. France and Lebanon also signed three conventions last February on defense, naval cooperation and the fight against terrorism. Since 2016, Paris has delivered more than 60 million euros of equipment to the Lebanese army.
While the financial support from the United States and France is undeniably generous in helping to maintain and preserve Lebanon’s most respected institution, there is undoubtedly a political goal – a policy of rebalancing towards -vis of Hezbollah and Iran. Washington and Paris fully understand that if the Lebanese army collapses, Hezbollah will fill the void to maintain security in the country and thus be further cemented in state structures.
Washington believes the Lebanese military can counterbalance the influence and power of Hezbollah. The United States is particularly worried that the Lebanese Shiite party will be less affected by the economic collapse due to the Iranian aid allocated which reaches 700 million dollars a year – a huge sum in Lebanon. The pro-Iranian party recently took initiatives to address the shortcomings of a failed Lebanese state by importing Iranian oil in an attempt to resolve the gasoline shortage, helping families victims of the Akkar tanker explosion in August. and provide free and / or affordable health care.
However, Washington does not consider the Lebanese military to really have cordial relations with Hezbollah. In fact, relations between Hezbollah and the military are so close that the Shiite group is particularly present in the Lebanese intelligence community, and the two forces regularly conduct joint exercises to secure the country’s border. It is recalled that in August 2017, in the context of the Syrian war spilling over the border, Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah fighters emptied a pocket of jihadists in the Bekaa valley.
Although the Lebanese military is on the verge of collapsing, the United States will not allow this to happen as it is their only gateway to any kind of influence in Lebanon. However, it seems that there is a clear misunderstanding or miscalculation in Washington – they will never be able to sever the ties between the Lebanese military and Hezbollah as long as Beirut refuses to make peace with Israel, which is very important. unlikely to happen anytime soon. .
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