Arming The Lebanese Army

The status and condition of the Lebanese Armed Forces seem to be a hot topic not only in Lebanon, but also in Paris and Washington these days.  Here’s something that doesn’t happen too frequently: an article in an otherwise generally decent Lebanese_newspaper , supplanted in terms of context, accuracy (if only on use of quotation marks), and informative detail, by a US governmental (Department of Defense to be precise)  press_release .

The news item relates to the provision of weaponry by the US to the Lebanese army.   While both the article and the press release discuss nothing groundbreaking or novel, they are interesting to read in that they provide specific numbers on different kinds of equipment shipped and to be shipped by the US, and also background on training programs offered.  For example, we learn that:

  • Lebanese officers are attending several US military colleges, and the International Military Education and Training fund for Lebanon has grown from $1.4 million in fiscal 2008 to $2.1 million this year;
  • Since 2006, the US has funneled more than $400 million in foreign military sales money to Lebanon;
  • The US has sent 285 Humvees to Lebanon, and another 312 will arrive by March;
  • The US has also sent 200 trucks and 41 M-198 155 mm artillery pieces;
  • The Lebanese army will get night-vision equipment and some tactical unmanned aerial vehicles;
  • 12 million rounds of ammo, spare helicopter parts, shoulder-fired rockets will be supplied; and
  • The US is committed to getting Lebanon more modern tanks, and the U.S. military is working on delivering M-60A3 tanks.

These numbers are based on quotes from DoD senior official Chris Straub, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian affairs.  While up to this point everything seems nice and rosy, there are, as expected, very important caveats with regard to the quantity and the nature of equipment supplied to the Lebanese army. Indeed, Straub adds: “We don’t have a conversation on these matters without considering the concerns of Israel and Israel’s qualitative military edge. That’s a U.S. commitment that we take very seriously.” (my emphasis)   The DoD press release then adds that “for example, the Lebanese army M-60 tanks are no match for Israel’s Mekava 4 main battle tanks.” What is the reason for this mismatch you ask? Straub explains: “We’re not trying to build up some juggernaut that could be threatening to anyone in the region, but to make the Lebanese armed forces capable in their own country.” 

Here is what is fundamentally wrong with this policy:  if the US thinks that propping up the Lebanese army just enough for it to provide a viable counterweight to Hezbollah will cause the latter to disintegrate or disappear, it will be sending weapons for a very, very long time with nothing changing in the situation on the ground. The reason for this is that Hezbollah is not competing with the Lebanese army ; Hezbollah is competing with Israel.  So long as the Lebanese army’s weaponry is weaker than that of Israel (which the US is on record as saying will be the case), Hezbollah will still be able to argue that the army is not strong enough to defend the country against Israeli aggression, and that its effort are needed.  And, indeed, it will be a very potent and correct argument to make.  The US policy in Lebanon basically seems to center on ways of fighting Hezbollah by proxy, that is, through the Lebanese army. But if Israel’s F-16’s were not able to annihilate Hezbollah in 2006, will the Lebanese army’s 597 Humvees be able to in 2009?

“The Death Industry” on the Revisions

Al-Arabiya (The Saudi counterweight to Al-Jazeera) has a special program called “The Death Industry” which is part of the Saudi counter-propaganda campaign against Al-Qaeda.  The show’s basic purpose is to slander Al-Qaeda style Jihadists.  This week’s episode (see the transcript  here)covered a variety of topics related to Ayman Zawahiri such as 1) why is he releasing so many tapes 2) why did he call Barrack Obama a “house slave” and lastly 3) the implications of Sayyid Imam’s latest Revisions. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Sayyid Imam, he is a former leader of the Egyptian Jihad Group and is currently  publishing a series of anti-Al Qaeda Revisions in a leading Egyptian newspaper.   Read  Jihadica’s translations of the book here.   For a long analysis of the book’s potential implications  on Jihadist groups check out this recent piece from The NATIONAL.

 The show hosted two well known commentators, Egypt’s Montasar Al- Zayat and Jordan’s Mohamed Abu Rumman.   Some background on Zayat: A former militant in the Islamic Group, he spent the 80s in jail,  wrote a book about his former relationship with Zawahiri,  and served as a mediator between the (Egyptian) state and Militant groups in the late 1990s as they made their transition away from violence.  Today he is the lawyer for the Islamic Group and he is a major advocate of the Revisions process.   This is his “life mission” as he says here (below) he has spent 20 years of his life trying to work towards providing the atmosphere where militants could reevaluate their approach and move towards the peaceful Islamic call:

أنا أريد أن أقول قضية المراجعات هي قضية عمري هي قضية شبابي، هي قضية تقريباً عشرين سنة وأنا كنت أعمل في هذه المساحة من أجل صنع مناخ يسمح بالتقييم وبأن تتصدر الدعوة الإسلامية السلمية وتعود إلى منابرها، من أجل اعتماد استراتيجية جديدة تتلاءم مع طبيعة المرحلة، طالني في هذا ما طالني وقد أديت دوري وأنا مرتاح الضمير، هذه دفعت فيها أنا دفعت فيها شبابي، دفعت فيها سمعتي، دفعت فيها من كرامتي، دفعت فيها اتهامات لاحقتني، وكنت أؤدي عن طيب خاطر لكن..

 Zayat, like most ex-Egyptian militants involved in the Revisions process is disgusted by the contents of Sayyid Imam’s new book.  Asked “what are the essential points?”

ريما صالحة: أعود معكم مشاهدينا لنتابع طبعاً ما تبقى من هذا النقاش في حلقة الليلة من صناعة الموت، أستاذ منتصر الزيات ما النقاط المستخلصة أنت تراها من رد الدكتور فضل على الظواهري

منتصر الزيات: صدقوني أنا لم أقرأ ما كتبه الدكتور فضل، أنا ربما طالعته الحلقة الأولى ولم أتم الحلقة الثانية ومن وقتها لم أقرأ ما يكتبه الأخ العزيز الدكتور سيد إمام..

He replies, in disgust :  “I didnt even get past the beginning of the second segment”  (there are so far 12).   Not only that but Zayat wants nothing to do with this latest round- He is thouroughly disgusted and refused to even comment on them: 

 أن تتحول المراجعات إلى اتهامات متبادلة وإلى اتهامات بالعمالة وإلى هذا الذي نراه ونقرأه ونسمعه أنا لست طرفاً في هذه المراجعات، ولا أعرف عنها شيئاً ولا أحب أن أكون فيها ولا أحب أن أتحدث عنها لأنها ببساطة شديدة تجهض فكرة المراجعات.

I’m not a translator but Zayat says above something like:  “I am not a part of these Revisions, I have no idea where this came from.  I don’t want any part of them and don’t even want to comment on them because to put it simply they are tainting/undermining the whole idea of the Revisions.” 

In the eyes of former militants such as Zayat, the value of the Revisions process is that instead of having potential militants turn to the previous works that have been used to justify violence, there will now also be available, serious well-thought out Islamic reevaluations by ex-militants of the former violent approach that people can turn to.  In Zayat’s view, what’s being printed now in Al-Masri Al-Youm is a disgrace and jeopardizes the reputation of the entire Revisions process.   No Jihadists or even Muslims anywhere will treat them seriously.  I should add that Abu Rumman essentially agreed with Zayat’s analysis, though not having a personal connection to the process, he wasn’t nearly as dramatic.

UPDATE: I should also add an important point:  Two weeks after Sayyid Imam’s latest book started, there has been almost no coverage in the Arabic media.  Last year, when his first Revisions came out, all of the big name Egyptian commentators sounded off.  This time around, literally nothing, which probably tells us something about how serious these Revisions should be taken.