Lebanon asks Iran to supply its army with midsize weapons
Move aimed at shifting Iran's assistance from Lebanon's militant guerilla group Hezbollah to the state.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman recently asked Iran for medium-sized weapons for Lebanon's army, in a move aimed at shifting Iran's assistance from the country's militant Hezbollah movement to the state, a Lebanese government official said Wednesday.
The official, who requested anonymity, said Suleiman had emphasized during a two-day visit to Tehran earlier this week that he was not seeking long-range missiles or jet fighters, but rather modern medium arms that would help the Lebanese army combat terrorism and maintain national security.
The source told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had assured his Lebanese counterpart that Iran would be ready to assist Lebanon in this regard.
"The Iranians vowed to support Lebanon in all key dossiers, particularly the national dialogue among the rival factions," the source said.
Iran is a staunch supporter of the militant Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is also backed by Syria. Tehran is believed to be Hezbollah's main arms supplier.
Hezbollah is the only Lebanese group which did not have to hand over its weapons in 1989, under the Saudi-sponsored Taef accord which ended Lebanon's 15 years of civil war.
The group has insisted that its weapons were for "resistance against Israeli occupation" of the country's south.
Israel pulled out of south Lebanon in 2000, but kept control over the disputed Shaba Farms area.
Hezbollah, which is classified as a terrorist group by the United States, has ignored United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for it to disarm and is widely believed to have expanded its arsenal since its month-long war with Israel in mid-2006.
The group's rivals in Lebanon, including Saudi-backed politician Saad Hariri, have argued that the Hezbollah arsenal undermines the state. Hezbollah insists its guerrilla army, known as "The Resistance," is vital for defending Lebanon from Israel.
The weapons became an even more divisive issue in Lebanon in May when Hezbollah used some of its military power to briefly take control of the Muslim half of Beirut, effectively imposing many of its terms to end an 18-month political crisis.
But it has said it is willing to discuss a defense strategy that would define the role of its guerrillas and the Lebanese army in confronting what it sees as an Israeli threat.
On Monday, Suleiman became the third Lebanese president to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
He met with Ahmadinejad and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and visited a weapons exhibition.