Washington Is Quietly Arming Lebanon
American weapons deliveries could signal a new front in the fight against Sunni extremists
A new front may be opening against Sunni extremists in the Middle East. While the world waits for American strikes in Syria and more troop deployments in Iraq, Washington has been quietly sending weapons to Beirut.
U.S. officials rushed the weapons to the small Mediterranean country after Sunni insurgents from the Islamic State group overran the border town of Arsal in August. The Islamists briefly occupied the area and captured a number of Lebanese soldiers.
The brutal extremists—better known for murdering Western journalists—have publicly beheaded at least two of their Arab captives this month. American and Lebanese officials hope the extra weapons will help stop the Sunni fighters—also referred to by the abbreviations ISIL or ISIS—from actually taking any new territory.
“These deliveries, paid for by the American people, will help the army secure Lebanon’s borders and defeat extremist groups that have crossed it,” American ambassador David Hale explained.
Like recent arms shipments to Iraq, this new American military aid included Hellfire missiles, according to an official statement. The Lebanese air force has a single Cessna light attack plane that can launch these laser-guided munitions.
In addition, Washington wants to help Beirut upgrade a second Cessna to carry the precision-guided weapons. Lebanon’s air arm hopes to get more light strike aircraft from the United States in the near future.
Since 2006, the Pentagon has provided the Lebanese military more than $90 million worth of military supplies, including UH-1H helicopters and the two Cessnas. Annual Defense Department reports say this total also included training courses on how to use the new equipment.
American commandos have also worked closely with their Lebanese counterparts. Special Operations Command even set up a forward headquarters in the country in 2007.
And Washington seems ready to ramp up American involvement in the small Mediterranean country if the security situation continues to deteriorate. “The United States has made clear that we will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in this region, or to help you counter the ISIL threat in [Lebanon],” Hale declared.
Lebanon could become the next major battleground between the amorphous Islamic State and its numerous enemies. Beirut has had to work hard just to manage strained relations and outright violence between the country’s Sunnis, Shias and Christians since the civil war erupted next door in Syria three years ago.
Unidentified gunmen attacked Syrian refugees across Lebanon after the assault on Arsal. Islamic State could play off all of these tensions to recruit sympathizers.
Militants have already captured significant portions of southeastern Syria and northern Iraq. The group claims to have established a new Islamic caliphate in these areas—but their new “nation” enjoys absolutely no international recognition.
At the moment, Beirut seems satisfied with its foreign assistance. So far, Lebanese authorities have not asked for American air strikes or any other direct military action in the country.