US-Russian race to arm Lebanon with heavy weapons

The United States and Russia are bidding hard against each other to give the Lebanese army heavy weapons, a contest which Israeli diplomacy has failed to deter, debkafile‘s military sources report.
Defense ministry official Amos Gilead arrived in Moscow Friday, Dec. 19 only to watch his train leaving the station: Sophisticated Russian S-300 air defense systems were already speeding toward Tehran to guard its nuclear sites and MiG-29 fighter jets had been pledged to Lebanon.
In Washington, too, Israeli diplomats pleaded in vain with Bush administration leaders to refrain from giving Lebanon tanks and a fleet of combat helicopters. Ten Cobras have led the way. They argued that there are no safeguards against American hardware falling into the hands of the Lebanese terrorist Hizballah, whose leaders vowed again Friday to destroy the Jewish state by launching a regional conflagration.
The spillover has a precedent: In the Israel-Hizballah war of 2006, the Lebanese army, then only lightly armed, let the Shiite terrorists fire missiles at Israel’s Mediterranean naval ships from its coastal radar positions.
Next time round, Israel faces a far tougher, upgraded arsenal of anti-air missiles made in Iran and Russia -supplied in the last two years by Tehran and Damascus, plus the new influx of US-made tanks and helicopters.
Israel’s strategic standing has thus been allowed to drop another notch thanks to the spineless incompetence of Israel’s current leaders, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak.
David Hale of the state department announced the US package for Lebanon Friday, Dec. 19, while denying Washington was competing with Moscow after the Russians gave Beirut a gift of 10 MiG fighters. After meeting Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut, Hale said that, in addition to M-50 Supersherman tanks, the US package under preparation included “air support capabilities (helicopters) with precision weapons and urban combat gear.” He did not go into numbers or types of weaponry.
The US was helping the Lebanese army “to maintain internal security and fighting terrorism in Lebanon,” Hale said.
On Dec. 12, debkafile reported exclusively that al Qaeda had relocated some of its Iraq terror force to Lebanon and that UNIFIL’s peacemakers had been placed on the alert in the southern Sidon-Ain Hilwa region where the incoming jihadis were preparing attacks for Lebanon and across the border into Israel as well.
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American official visits to Beirut have become more frequent in recent weeks.
In late November, the head of the US Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, held talks with Lebanese leaders, followed on Dec. 10, by the coordinator of anti-terror operations at the state department, Dell Dailey.
The last arrival, Hale, may choose to play down the competition with Moscow, but debkafile‘s military sources see American and Russian military instructors working cheek by jowl to teach the Lebanese army how to use their respective weapons, especially air defense tactics. Close competition in these circumstances is bound to lead to the piling on of advanced hardware offers by the contestants. The big American military mission in Beirut at the moment will no doubt be followed by a Russian delegation of comparable size.
Washington has not prevented Moscow from building up a rival military presence in Lebanon capital, a development in which Israel has a high security stake. Whereas Russia’s strategic orbit focused earlier on new naval bases in Syria’s Mediterranean ports of Latakia and Tartous, it has since stretched to a military foothold 250 km to the south, right up to Israel’s back door from Lebanon.
While the tanks America is giving Lebanon are ageing models, Israeli military experts comment that they form the nucleus of the Lebanese army’s first tank corps, along with its first helicopters – two valuable resources coming within the Hizballah’s grasp and in whose use Iranian officers will quickly instruct them.
debkafile also reveals that a group of Hizballah operatives recently paid a secret visit to Moscow and asked for Russian hardware. The Russians did not respond. But by supplying the Lebanese army with heavy equipment along with experts and instructors, it has opened the way for these assets to be diverted to the Shiite terrorists.
Jerusalem is too busy spinning fairy tales about the feasibility of peace with Syria to pay proper attention to the hectic, hostile activity on Israel’s northern border.

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