Give them some Goggles!

Robert Worth has an EXCELLENT article  in the New York Times on recent efforts to strengthen the Lebanese Army.  

A few weeks back I posted about the rising Salafi presence in the Levant which are thriving post-2005 Syrian withdrawal because of the power vacuum that emerged after the most powerful force suddenly disappeared.  Ie these groups can move around almost at will, at least in Lebanon, because there is noone to stop them.  So the question then that I posed is 

 I argued in this post that perhaps a Syrian reoccupation (or at least a strong presence in)  of Lebanon is the best option for the long-term stabilization of Lebanon.  Its the most “natural” arrangement and the Syrian presence puts a check on Sunni ambitions in Lebanon and keeps a lid on the kind of Sectarianism we see today.

BlackStar disagreed with my arguement and made a solid case that this would only further increase political tension inside Lebanon.  She argued that the best thing the US could do is focus on strengthening the Lebanese Army.   Basically, the difference here is over how to best bring Security to Lebanon. 

I think they best possible way to do this is have a strong Syrian presence in Lebanon but with Joe Biden bragging about his accomplisments in kicking Hezbollah out of Lebanon (wait he meant Syria right?), the US is not likely to support such a policy any time soon. Not unless someone with the foreign policy Vision of BUSH THE FATHER were to reoccupy the White House but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Therefore,  I agree with Blackstar that strengthening the Lebanese Army is the most logical option.   And this is what US policy official is:

“United States policy is that Lebanon be sovereign and independent and the Lebanon government and its institutions govern all of Lebanon’s territory and disarm militias,” said Christopher C. Straub, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. “We recognize that is not going to happen overnight, but that is our policy.”

Worth and Eric Liption  provide a run-down of efforts to rearm the Lebanese Army.  The only way that the Lebanese Army can govern effectively Lebanon’s territory  is if it has a monopoly on the use of force.  Traditionally it has not, but it seems to be getting closer with the aid of the US.

1) Choppers-  probably going to have to wait a bit on that one

An important moment for the army came in the summer of 2007, when it fought and won a three-month battle with Islamists in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in the northern city of Tripoli. That struggle, in which 168 soldiers and an unknown number of militants were killed, vividly underscored the need to re-equip the army. With no combat helicopters or precision weapons, the army had to resort to dropping bombs by hand from its Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, a hopelessly inaccurate method that resulted in the near-leveling of the camp.

Although the United States rushed them 40 loads of C-17 transport planes full of ammunition and other gear, army commanders bitterly resented the failure to provide them with more sophisticated arms.

“Nahr al-Bared lasted 105 days,” said one high-level Lebanese officer involved in procurement issues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If we had had attack helicopters, it would have been over in 15 days.”

It does seem that this kind of attack helicopter would have made a serious difference.  If they were dropiing bombs by hand out of Helicopters, real combat Helicopters probably would have made a decisive difference.  I see no reason why in the future, they can’t get some serious upgrades in this area.  The biggest problem is the US buracracy, which is really really slow. 

2) Night-vision goggles:  Whats the hold-up here? 

Another stark illustration of Lebanon’s new military ambitions, and its gaping needs, is visible right now on the country’s northern border with Syria. In recent weeks, after a string of bombings in Tripoli that left 20 people dead — most of them Lebanese soldiers — the military sent 8,000 soldiers to the border to monitor smuggling routes across the northern mountains.

That effort alone was a measure of Lebanon’s new independence from Syria. But the border control force was too small, and it lacked necessary equipment, Lebanese military officials say.

“They have no U.A.V.’s, no night-vision equipment, none of the sensors they use in other countries to tell if what you’re seeing is a threat or just an animal,” the Lebanese procurement officer said, using the abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicles. “Let’s say you have 50 valleys in one area, and you have soldiers posted on hilltops. They can watch during the day, but at night they can do nothing.”

We know that Lebanon is, to some extent, used as a way station for Al-Qaeda affiliated militants.  Smugglers must be laughing knowing that the Lebanese Army doesn’t have Nigh-Vision Goggles. Any anti-smuggling operation is virtually useless if one is only capable of being effective during the day as anyone who has stood in a rural area at night can attest.   So whats the hold-up here?  There is nothing especially politically  sensitive about providing night-vision goggles.

3) Air-defense system-   your probably not going to get one:

And it is heavier weapons that are most needed, Lebanese officials say. In particular, they want an air defense system, which would allow them to argue that they could completely replace Hezbollah as a warding force against Israel in the south.

“It’s the ABC of any army to have the capacity to defend itself,” the Lebanese procurement officer said. “During the 2006 war, Israeli aircraft were shooting from 300 meters up.”

The US State Department might talk about disarming Hezbollah but they know that this is just lipservice.  Its not going to happen.  At least not any time soon.  Any US aid to the Lebanese army that might allow them to “argue that they could completely replace Hezbollah as a warding force against Israel in the south” should probably be avoided. Any effort to do the physical “replacing” would be explosive politically.  I see know reason why a strong Hezbollah militia (who can be used as a buffer zone in the South, preventing any confrontation between Israel and Jihadists) and a strong Lebanese Army has to be mutually exclusive. 

But even more importantly, I find it extremely unlikely that the US woudl even consider giving Lebanon, a nation technically still at war with Israel, an air defense system is hard to fathom.  Congress, under pressure from pro-Israeli groups, is highly unlikely to ever go along with that.   I’m not sure its a good idea at all any way as it would take Lebanon to “the brink” as far as a showdown between the Army and Hezbollah and that’s something to be avoided.

Still, I see no reason why they couldn’t be provided with Night-Vision Goggles.  All in all,  a very well researched article on an important strategic issue.