France convenes virtual meeting to support Lebanese army

Deep economic crisis threatens the country's stability
Atalayar_Francia Libano Ejército

AP/HUSSEIN MALLA  -   Lebanese army soldiers deploy on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern town of Kfar Kila, Lebanon

France will convene a virtual meeting of countries on 17 June to rally support for the Lebanese army. The armed forces have been hit hard by the economic crisis, with military salaries plummeting to a fifth of their value, forcing them to moonlight.

Meanwhile, Lebanon has been without a government for more than seven months. “The whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic. If the ship sinks there will be no one left”, said parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri.

Last month, Paris provided food and medical supplies for military personnel. France, which has led aid efforts to its former colony, has sought to increase pressure on Lebanon's disputed politicians after failed attempts to bring them together to agree on a new government and launch the reforms the country needs.  

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PHOTO/DALATI NONHRA - Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian

The aim of the virtual meeting organised by France is to encourage donations for the benefit of the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) which, due to their deteriorating living conditions, may not be able to fully carry out their work, which is indispensable for the security and stability of the nation. Countries from the Lebanon International Support Group, which includes Gulf Arab states, the United States, Russia, China and European powers, have been invited.

The dire conditions in the army prompted the commander of the armed forces, General Joseph Aoun, to call on his allies for help and warn that the situation is untenable. He spoke to senior US military and government officials in virtual meetings early last May. He later flew to Paris to meet with senior defence officials and President Emmanuel Macron in a rare move that reflects the gravity of the situation in Lebanon.

The LAF will receive seven offshore patrol boats, including four with French assistance and three as part of US military aid. The French vessels are not part of that country's military assistance to Lebanon, but will be funded through a loan from France in accordance with the Rome Conference, a 2018 ministerial meeting held in Italy in support of the LAF. France is expected to open a €400 million line of credit to enable the Lebanese government to purchase French military equipment.

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AFP PHOTO / HO / LEBANESE ARMY - The Commander of the Lebanese Army, General Joseph Aoun, receiving the Chief of the General Staff of the French Army, General Francois Lecointre (L)

In fiscal year 2020, the United States provided $216 million in combined State Department and Defense Department military assistance. After Ambassador Dorothy Shea met with Rear Admiral Curtis Renshaw and Defense Chief Joseph Aoun on Friday, 28 May, the US State Department announced the transfer of $120 million in Foreign Military Financing for Fiscal Year 2021. This military grant will provide the LAF with critical defence systems, services and training.

The urgent need to form a "credible and effective" government has been called for several times as this economic crisis threatens the country's stability. The group also stressed the "urgent need to adopt substantial, credible and comprehensive economic reforms" to revive the economy.

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REUTERS/YARA ABI NADER - Demonstrators block a road during a protest after Lebanon's Central Bank said it would stop bank withdrawals from dollar accounts at a low fixed rate, in Beirut, Lebanon

According to the World Bank, this economic and financial crisis is likely to rank among the first three most severe global crises since the mid-19th century. Since late 2019, the Lebanese pound has plummeted by 90 per cent, sending prices soaring. This crisis represents the greatest threat to stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

With more than half the population living below the poverty line, the year has seen several waves of protests. Some protesters have called for a revival of the national street movement of late 2019 that demanded the ouster of the entire Lebanese political class, widely seen as incompetent and corrupt. Lebanon ranks 137th out of 180 countries, with 180th being the worst, in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2019.