By Garrett Khoury
Special to Ya Libnan
In his interview with Al-Balad, President Michel Suleiman had strong words for Israel’s policy towards Lebanon,
and equally strong words for the perpetrators of rocket attacks on Israel from Lebanese territory. Though such attacks may be against Lebanese “popular and official will” as Suleiman said, in reality there is little the state can do in its present state.
The Lebanese military is lauded as the golden child of the Lebanese nation. For all the praise that has been heaped on it, from its performance during the Nahr al-Bared fighting in 2007 to its non-sectarian stance during the civil strife of this past summer, the actual capabilities of the Lebanese armed forces are not in any way sufficient to assert state authority over Lebanese territory.
A case in point is the fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp at Nahr al-Bared in 2007. While undoubtedly a victory for the Army, a closer look will show that this victory has little in it to brag about. It took three and a half months for the tens of thousands of Lebanese troops deployed to subdue the probably less than 500 man force of Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam fighters. The Army suffered over 150 dead and 400 wounded in the battle. This was partly due to the lack of effective air support; the best that could be mustered were UH-1 Huey helicopters converted into bombers using spare parts from the Air Force. The lack of precision munitions, such as American Hellfire missiles, and valuable air cover took its toll in the number of lives lost by the Army.
So the first lesson is that the Lebanese defense forces need to procure precision weapons; aging Soviet weaponry such as the BM-21 just will not do. Also, the reconstruction of the Air Force is becoming increasingly more prudent. The gift of MiG-29s from Russia is a good sign, but it will be years before a well-trained corps of fighter pilots can take to the skies of Lebanon. A more short term option is the acquisition of attack helicopters, such as the American AH-1 Cobra, newer versions of the French Gazelle, or even Russian KA-52 Black Sharks. These will show themselves to be more effective in the type of fighting Lebanon’s armed forces have seen lately. The armored forces of the Army should also be overhauled; archaic Soviet T-55’s and American M-48’s serve little purpose on the modern battlefield, and are especially susceptible to RPG’s, a weapon of choice for the modern militant.
The place to go for most of the required arms would be the West. As appreciated Russia’s contributions are, Russian arms have shown themselves to be no match for quality Western equipment. The Leopard tanks from Belgium and M-60 tanks from the United States, though older models, are still superior in quality to the newest Russian armored vehicles. In addition, Western anti-tank munitions, such as the American Javelin, and anti-aircraft equipment, as in the French Mistral, are far superior to similar Russian and Chinese models. It would be in the Army’s best interest to press the West to deliver such equipment.
Most important of all though, the Army needs to completely overhaul its training regime. Focus needs to be taken away from larger scale conflicts and towards smaller scale, counterinsurgency operations. The Army was woefully unprepared for the urban combat it faced at Nahr al-Bared, and as such demands increased focus on such operations. The Special Forces of Lebanon have shown themselves to be exceptional; however, they are too small in number to be used as large units in urban combat. The switch of military recruitment of the armed forces to an all volunteer force lends itself to creating a small, well trained and equipped military. A well trained volunteer force has shown itself to be of much higher quality than a large conscript force. One need only look at the United States.
Where can the Lebanese Armed Forces receive aid for such a training overhaul? Jordan, a fellow Arab nation with a top-grade military, is one source. The need for such change is clear, and would serve to greatly improve the quality of Lebanon’s forces.
The laws of the Lebanese republic are only good if they are backed up by a quality military that is ready to implement those laws. With militias running rampant in the camps, with groups such as the PFLP-GC and Hezbollah operating outside of the rule of the government and carving out their own armed camps on Lebanese territory, the need for an overhaul of the military in all areas is most definitely called for.
Tags: Army, Fatah al-Islam, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Nahr al-Bared, Palestinian Refugee Camps, Suleiman