Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn in aid to the Lebanese armed forces, a gift that comes in a time when tensions run high, both inside Lebanon and across the region.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman announced the donation on Sunday describing it as the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces. It is almost double the amount of Lebanon’s entire defence budget for last year.
We faced a lot of objections from the United States in the past to re-arm and to enhance the ability of the army because they think that this could threaten the stability of Israel, but now apparently the Saudis decided to go ahead and disregard the United States' objection.
“This aid aims to support Lebanon in all its religions and support the Lebanese army that is known for supporting national unity. We will provide it with all the needed conditions to achieve the great national cause that it was set up for,” he said.
Sleiman made the announcement after the funeral of senior Lebanese politician Mohamed Shatah who was killed in a car bomb on Friday.
Shatah was critical of Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah and Syria’s president, which Hezbollah supports. But there has been no claim of responsibility for his killing.
Lebanon’s army has struggled to deal with violence spilling over from Syria’s civil war and is seen as weak in dealing with armed internal groups, especially Hezbollah.
In the last three years, Saudi Arabia has been pushing to be the Middle East’s most powerful player.
In Egypt, the Saudis backed the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi; within two hours of the coup, they pledged $5bn in aid.
They have also positioned themselves as crucial players in Syria, funding the rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and providing them with weapons.
And in Yemen, Saudi Arabia carefully brokered the power transition in 2011 following the uprising there. That allowed its long-time ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to leave office with immunity from prosecution.
So, is the donation to Lebanon a recipe for further turmoil or will it allow for greater security? And what does it mean for Saudi Arabia’s role in the region?
Inside Story explores the reasons behind this donation and the potential ramifications. Presenter Laura Kyle discusses with Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and head of the Middle East Centre for Studies and Research; Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University; and Mustafa Alani, a military analyst and senior adviser at the Gulf Research Centre.
“Two years ago, Iran presented its will to give the Lebanese army equipment, and many political voices said ‘no!’ because they said there are political conditions. Now on the other side they said also ‘We do accept the Saudi grant without political conditions’. In my opinion we have to accept all grants for the army to build up an army and to stop this discussion and to leave this army weak. I don’t think the United States of America will provide this army any air defence system because Israel says ‘no’.”
Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general