Thursday, November 20, 2008

Russia to Sell Heavy Arms to Lebanon

Russia to Sell Heavy Arms to Lebanon

Following a meeting last week between leading Lebanese legislator Sa'ad Hariri and Russian leaders, Hariri was quoted by Russian media this weekend as saying Russia will sell heavy weaponry to Lebanon. Previously, Hariri said that he hoped Russia would help Lebanon claim Mt. Dov from Israel. Russia is expecting Lebanon to recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian districts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Hariri, the son of the assassinated popular former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, represents the Western-backed majority in the Lebanese parliament. Russia will "help the Lebanese army," the Vremia Novosti newspaper quoted Hariri as saying, "which needs heavy weapons" such as tanks and artillery. American military aid, Hariri told Russian media, only consists of light arms.

Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr is to visit Moscow in coming weeks, when the details of the arms deal will be finalized. The Russian state arms export firm, Rosoboronexport, has been boycotted by the United States government for arms deals with Iran, North Korea and Syria.

In early October, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and urged him not to approve the sale of weapons to Iran and Syria. It was imperative, he told the Russian leader, to "prevent weapons from Syria from reaching extremist elements in Lebanon, such as Hizbullah."

Mt. Dov and Abkhazia-S. Ossetia - Quid Pro Quo?

Last week, during an official visit to Moscow by Hariri and other legislators, Lebanese media strongly emphasized Hariri's expression of his appreciation for Russia's role in working towards an Israeli withdrawal from the Mt. Dov area (called "Shab'a Farms" in Lebanon) along the Israeli border with Lebanon. A report published by the Beirut-based English-language Daily Star was entitled, "Hariri Looks to Russia to Help Liberate Shab'a Farms", although the article itself did not present any direct quote on the matter from Lebanese or Russian officials.

After his meeting with Hariri, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was against foreign interference in Lebanese domestic affairs. It was not clear if he was referring to actions by Syria, Israel or other foreign interventions.

The Iran-controlled Lebanese terrorist organization Hizbullah, in the meantime, said recently that an Israeli withdrawal from Mt. Dov would only be a start. The group claims seven Arab villages in northern Israel are actually Lebanese. In any event, both Iran and Hizbullah have repeatedly made it clear that they do not believe Israel should exist at all, regardless of border demarcations. A Hizbullah spokesman said last week that the group would not give up it arms until Lebanon had another force capable of confronting Israel.

Touching on Lebanese policy towards matters in the Slavic states, Hariri was quoted as saying that Lebanon may well recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian districts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian Vremya Novostei newspaper quoted Hariri as saying, "We will fine tune contacts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia now. For example, delegations of Lebanese businessmen will be leaving for there soon." Russia has backed the secession of the regions from Georgia, including launching a war in their defense in August of this year.

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