Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Ending 2013 on a high note, the Lebanese Republic (Lebanon) announced that its armed forces would receive a grant of $3 billion from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2014; the size of which dwarfs the Lebanese army’s 2013 budget of $1.2 billion. (Source: Jane’s Information Group.)
Most regional observers have focused on how this promised grant counters the influence – political and military – of the Iran-backed, Syria-supporting, militia organization Hezbollah – by far the most powerful military force in Lebanon.
What these observers have not discussed is how this package reflects Riyadh’s declining confidence in the US’ Middle East policies, and the Obama administration’s desire and capability to stand strong against Iran.
Before discussing this promised aid, let’s first consider Riyadh’s history of broken promises. Like most nations, it always promises more than it delivers but I am confident this won’t happen in this case.
The primary reason for my belief is that this $3 billion is almost entirely for the purchase of weapons systems and equipment from a third-party. It’s a high-profile international agreement whose purpose is to shore up a weak ally against a long-standing opponent.
Given the multitude of these factors, I find it highly unlikely Riyadh will renege on its promise and, for the purpose of this analysis, let’s assume this aid package will be delivered as promised.
So, why is Riyadh providing these funds to Lebanon? Clearly, Saudi Arabia wants to bolster the capabilities of the Lebanese armed forces because it sees them as a bulwark against the growing influence of Iran in the region, and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
In addition, Riyadh also feels let down and concerned by the United States and its Iranian policy. Washington has led an international coalition that has begun negotiations with Tehran and this action, regardless of its appropriateness, has raised concerns about whether the Obama administration is as serious about Iran as its predecessors.
These negotiations are especially concerning to Riyadh because Iran has made no changes to its foreign policy and continues to support both Hezbollah and the Syrian president Assad.
Furthermore, Russia outmaneuvering Washington on Syria has also raised questions about the capabilities of the Obama administration and forced Riyadh to take actions to increase its independence and raise its regional profile.
These are some reasons why the $3 billion aid package is almost exclusively to procure French weapons systems and equipment. (Since 2007, Washington has given $850 million in military assistance to the Lebanese army.)
Finally, what will be impact of this aid? Obviously, it will bolster the Lebanese army’s resources – whether it improves their capabilities is another question for another time – and potentially raise the level of violence in that country as both factions – the army and Hezbollah – take more aggressive actions. (As anyone who has been reading about the recent bomb blasts knows, Lebanon, like most of the Middle East, isn’t the most peaceful place on this planet.)
This will force Hezbollah to focus more on Lebanon thus potentially reduce its focus in Lebanon (a positive for Riyadh) but also increase instability in Lebanon (a negative for the US and Israel).
In conclusion, Saudi Arabia’s $3 billion aid package does not have any obvious negative repercussions for Riyadh (provided the arms don’t fall into Hezbollah’s hands and the higher level of violence doesn’t cross borders).
Provided how successfully these French procurements are integrated into the Lebanese army, one should expect further such support from Saudi Arabia and other nations such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.