Lebanese army soldiers drive armored personnel carriers in the northern Lebanese town of Arsal on the border with Syria on Wednesday, as fighting with Islamist jihadists continue. Saudi Arabia has given Lebanon's military $1 billion to help its fight against jihadists on the Syrian border, as the army's chief urged France to speed up promised weapons supplies. (AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — After days of intense fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamist fighters from Syria near the Lebanese town of Arsal, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has offered an additional $1 billion in military aid to the Lebanese government.
The latest billion-dollar aid package comes on top of the $3 billion in French military equipment that the Saudi government pledged in December. The aid numbers dwarf Lebanon’s own defense budget, estimated at $1.2 billion in 2013.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced the latest funding on Tuesday night after paying a visit to King Abdullah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi state-run media site SPA quoted Hariri as saying the money and equipment will help the Lebanese armed forces “maintain the security and stability of Saudi Arabia's sister country, Lebanon.”
The Pentagon’s aid to Lebanon over the past several years, while hardly insignificant, pales in comparison to the recent Saudi moves. From 2009 to 2013, Washington has committed $671 million for Lebanese security forces, while training 7,104 Lebanese soldiers and police officers over that same period, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The United States has also spent millions to provide Lebanese Special Forces with small arms, sniper rifles, vehicles, night-vision sights, handheld global positioning systems, and other equipment.
According to a White House fact sheet, Washington has provided Lebanon about $100 million in counterterrorism training and equipment since 2006. In recent years, the US has also provided Humvees, M113 infantry carriers, TOW anti-tank launchers and missiles; 155mm howitzers; and a variety of other anti-tank weapons.
The new aid offer comes as Sunni Islamist fighters have made increasing forays into Lebanon from neighboring Syria, killing scores of civilians and Lebanese police and at least 17 soldiers.
Over the past two days, columns of Lebanese Army troops driving US-made Humvees and M113 infantry carriers have streamed east to meet the threat, and have reportedly surrounded Arsal, leaving a single corridor open for fighters who want to flee back to Syria.
While the Lebanese government has shied away from engaging in the raging civil war in neighboring Syria, the country’s powerful Hezbollah faction has hardly remained on the sidelines.
The Shiite group has sent personnel to Syria to help Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hold on to power in the face of a mostly Sunni rebellion. In so doing, Hezbollah has again partnered with Shiite Iran, which has long used Syria to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah.
To date, over a million Sunni refugees have fled to Lebanon to escape the fighting in Syria, which is about a quarter of Lebanon’s 4 million citizens.
As part of a 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment sent to Congress earlier this year, the US intelligence community wrote that Lebanon “will continue to experience sectarian violence among Lebanese and terrorist attacks by Sunni extremists and Hezbollah, which are targeting each others’ interests, warning that such attacks could “erupt into sustained and widespread fighting.”