Day After Saudi Arabia Gives Record $3 Billion To Lebanese Army, Lebanese Troops Fire At Syrian Warplanes
That didn't take long.
It was only yesterday that Saudi Arabia pledged a record $3 billion to prop up Lebanon's armed forces, in what the WSJ described as "a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia's decades-long status as Lebanon's main power broker and security force." Lebanese President Michel Sleiman revealed the Saudi gift on Lebanese national television Sunday, calling it the largest aid package ever to the country's defense bodies. The Saudi pledge compares with Lebanon's 2012 defense budget, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put at $1.7 billion.
The Saudi move was announced hours after thousands of Lebanese turned out for the funerals of former cabinet minister Mohamad Chatah and some of the other victims killed Friday in a bombing in downtown Beirut. The bomb was believed to have targeted Mr. Chatah, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah's dominance of Lebanese affairs and security. No group has claimed responsibility. Saudi Arabia on Friday responded to the assassination by calling for Lebanon to build up the government and armed forces "to stop this tampering with the security of Lebanon and the Lebanese."
Surprisingly, the biggest winner here may be none other than France: "Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy "newer and more modern weapons," from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah. It followed what he called "decades of unsuccessful efforts" to build a credible Lebanese national defense force."
However, back to the Lebanese quid pro quo: less than 24 hours after the announcement, what does Lebanon go ahead and do? Why it fired at Syrian warplanes (recall Syria is the archnemesis of Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar) of course, the first time it has done so since the start of the Syrian conflict. From BBC:
Lebanese troops have fired at Syrian warplanes violating its airspace, for what is thought to be the first time since the conflict in Syria began.
Lebanon's National News Agency said the army had responded to a raid on Khirbet Daoud, near Arsal in the Bekaa Valley.
Syrian government forces have fired into Lebanon in the past, targeting rebels sheltering over the border.
The Lebanese authorities had until now not responded militarily, hoping they would not be dragged into the war.
Arsal is predominantly Sunni and its residents have been broadly supportive of the Sunni-dominated uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The north-eastern town has been flooded with refugees since the Syrian military launched an offensive in the Qalamoun mountains last month.
Some 20,000 people have settled in makeshift camps, as Syrian troops backed by members of the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah have sought to cut rebel cross-border supply routes.
And that is how Saudi Arabia buys proxy war access on yet another front in an indication that its hopes that sooner or later the Syrian conflict will re-escalate enough to allow the "developed west" to stage another chemical attack and finally have the US topple Assad, are still alive. The only question is whether this time Putin, instead of simply diffusing the Syrian confrontation once again, will have an incendiary present or two for the Saudi princes, in part as gratitude for the string of recent Saudi-inspired terrorist attacks in Volgograd.
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