Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Monday, December 30, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
From WSJ:
Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to bolster Lebanon's armed forces, in a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia's decadeslong 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.

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.

As a direct challenge to Hezbollah, the Saudi gift—and the Lebanese president's acceptance—has potential to change the balance of power in Lebanon and the region. It also threatens to raise sectarian and political tensions further in a region already made volatile by the three-year, heavily sectarian civil war next door in Syria.
This is a huge story for a number of reasons.

First of all, it is a power play by Saudi Arabia against Iran. Lebanon was considered a lost cause because of Hezbollah's military dominance and the West's lack of engagement in Syria. This gift instantly creates a powerful foil to the Iran/Hezbollah military axis in Lebanon and Syria.

Secondly, it shows that Saudi Arabia has decided to partially fill the vacuum being left by the current US hands-off policy in the Middle East (except, of course, "peace process" in which the White House has seemingly embraced the bizarre and discredited concept of "linkage.") Since no one can rely on America anymore in the Middle East, the Gulf countries are deciding to take matters into their own hands.

Thirdly, it shows that money can be just as important for power politics as military might. Saudi Arabia has cash, and now it is showing that it is willing to use it.

Fourthly, it might actually give a chance for the Lebanese army sometime in the future to enforce UNSC 1701 which is meant to disarm Hezbollah. This won't happen anytime soon; the Lebanese understandably have no stomach for another civil war, but Lebanon now has a chance to re-assert its sovereignty over its Iranian-controlled south.

The psychological effect of this move can be seen almost immediately:
The Lebanese army opened anti-aircraft fire on Monday at Syrian warplanes that hovered the eastern border town of Arsal.

According to state-run National News Agency, the Syrian warplanes prompted the Lebanese army to respond after it raided Khirbet Daoud, which lies in the Eastern Mountain Range in an area adjacent to the barren mountains of the town of Arsal.

LBCI reported that Syrian warplanes hit the area with three rockets.

It was the first time since the outbreak of the Syria's conflict three years ago that the Lebanese military took action to prevent Syrian warplanes from violating its airspace.
Would this have happened before the announcement of the aid? It seems unlikely.

As US influence fades, the pieces are moving and alliances are shifting into what will probably be a complicated balance of Shiite, Sunni moderate, Sunni radical and Israeli spheres of influence in the region. Russia and some EU countries will probably want to be involved to some extent as well., and there are plenty of wildcards like Turkey. The sheer number of possible moves makes every specific move far more significant - and potentially dangerous - than during the era of US hegemony.

The biggest loser is the US, and its missteps in the region will take decades to repair, if ever.

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