Saudi Arabia to give Lebanese army $3 billion in aid
Figure matches U.S. annual aid for Israel.
Saudi Arabia is giving the Lebanese army $3 billion in aid, Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman said on Sunday, calling it the largest grant ever given to the country's armed forces.
Incidentally, this is the same figure the United States gives Israel annually, though not all of it is pegged for military use.
In a televised address, Suleiman said that "the king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3 billion to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities."
Some of the money was likely to be spent on weapons from France, Suleiman indicated in a televised address.
"His Highness suggested that weapons would be purchased from France, and quickly," he said.
France will supply weapons to the Lebanese army if it is asked to do so, French President Francois Hollande said on Sunday during a visit to Saudi Arabia where he met King Abdullah.
Lebanon's armed forces have been struggling to deal with violence spreading over the border from Syria's civil war.
The country, which is still rebuilding after its own 15-year civil war, has seen
clashes between gunmen loyal to opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, as well as militant attacks on the army itself.
Lebanon's army is seen as one of the few institutions not overtaken by sectarian divisions that plague the country. But it is ill-equipped to deal with internal militant groups, particularly the Shi'ite Muslim guerrilla and political movement Hezbollah, which is funded by the regional Shi'ite power Iran.
The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be seeking to bolster the army as a counterbalance to Hezbollah, seen as the most effective and powerful armed group in Lebanon.
Rising regional Sunni-Shi'ite tensions have been stoked by the fight in neighboring Syria, which generally pits the country's majority Sunni Muslim rebels against President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
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