French military supplies redirected to Saudi Arabia

Friday 11/03/2016
France has sold billions of dollars in weaponry to Riyadh

LONDON - Saudi Arabia is to keep bil­lions of dollars of mili­tary equipment it is buy­ing from France after cancelling a deal to give the weaponry as aid to the Leba­nese military over fears it could fall into the hands of Hezbollah.
Media in Lebanon had speculat­ed that the grant was cancelled due to economic issues — low crude oil prices and its participation in two regional wars — afflicting Saudi Arabia but, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, at a news confer­ence in Paris, insisted: “We didn’t stop the contract. It’s just going to Saudi Arabia, not to Hezbollah.”
“We have a situation where Leba­non’s decisions have been hijacked by Hezbollah,” Jubeir said. “The contracts will be completed but the clients will be the Saudi military.”
Saudi Arabia in February can­celled the grant, called the Donas military aid programme, over the Lebanese government’s failure to condemn attacks on the king­dom’s diplomatic missions in Iran. This was followed by travel bans by the kingdom. All Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) members have officially designated the Hezbollah militia as a terrorist organisation.
The French government at­tempted to unblock the deal, with a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry saying that the objective of the Donas programme was to contribute to “equipping Lebanon’s national armed forces in order to allow them to protect the country in complete independence. We are pursuing our dialogue with the Saudi and Lebanese authorities to reach this objective.”
The military aid programme had been plagued with delays and speculation since it was announced in December 2013. The aid pack­age would have been the biggest in Lebanese history and was three times larger than the annual Leba­nese defence budget.
The grant involved a four-year, $3 billion Saudi pledge to buy French arms for the Lebanese military and a $1 billion support deal for the Lebanese police. Some weaponry was delivered in April 2015, a ship­ment to the Lebanese military that included 48 anti-tank Milan mis­siles. That delivery was made after the Saudis paid $450 million to France.
Also to have been included in the deal were 250 combat and trans­port vehicles, seven Cougar heli­copters, three Corvette warships and a range of surveillance and communications equipment, plus training and maintenance services.
Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told Bloomberg News that Saudi Arabia is unable to ensure that the French weapons would not fall into the hands of Hezbol­lah.
“Since Hezbollah, their staunch enemy, has the upper hand in Leb­anon’s decision-making system, the Saudis are not sure where the money is going and who will be controlling it,” Nader said.
The Iran-supported Hezbollah is backing President Bashar Assad regime in Syria’s civil war, while Saudi Arabia supports Sunni re­bels. However, both sides are also fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).
In an unrelated development, France presented the National Or­der of the Legion of Honour, the country’s highest award, to Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minis­ter Mohammed bin Nayef bin Ab­dulaziz.
French President François Hol­lande bestowed the honour on the crown prince for his “efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism”. The crown prince led a successful crackdown on al-Qae­da militants in Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2007.
France has sold billions of dol­lars in weaponry to Riyadh and sees Saudi Arabia as crucial to in­telligence sharing about jihadist groups.