BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Saturday received eight M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the second shipment of an ongoing package of American military aid. The M2A2s are armored personnel carriers with a gun platform, and Saturday’s shipment brings Lebanon’s total to 16 vehicles out of a total of 32 scheduled for delivery. The donations make Lebanon one of only a handful of countries operating the M2A2 other than the U.S.
The Lebanese Army has received a total of $1.5 billion in military aid from successive American administrations since the 2006 war with Israel. The U.S. also provides education and training: it has in the past allocated funds for hundreds of officers to receive specialized training and schooling with the U.S. military.
As well as the M2A2s, the U.S. is also delivering six MD 530G light attack helicopters, six ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles and an array of communication and night vision devices. The Army also started receiving the six A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft with the first pair arriving in October 2017.
A tweet on the official U.S. Embassy in Lebanon Twitter account said the total value of the military package of which the M2A2s are a part is “more than $100 million.”
“These Bradleys will provide the LAF with new capabilities to defend Lebanon,” the tweet added, referring to the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President and analyst for the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Star that the nature of American military aid to Lebanon is defined by two principal considerations.
First, he said it cannot be militarily competitive with weaponry given by the United States to Israel as a result of a U.S. policy known as “Qualitative Military Edge,” which is written in a law and commits the U.S. to maintaining the military superiority of Israel to “deter numerically superior adversaries.”
Second, he said the U.S. military and the Pentagon try to ensure that any equipment given “cannot be easily transferred to Hezbollah, and if it were to be transferred it would be extremely difficult to mask.”
According to Schanzer, senior U.S. figures are unconvinced that providing military aid to the Lebanese Army is consistent with their ambition to incapacitate Hezbollah.
“The LAF continues to try to assuage the Pentagon quietly but I think that the critics here in the U.S. are unconvinced,” he said. “The more we continue to support the status quo the higher the likelihood that Hezbollah will grow.”
Schanzer said that the return of large numbers of battle-trained Hezbollah fighters from the Syrian theater would be very likely to trigger a conflict with Israel. “I think the notion we are not going to see conflict with Israel is fanciful,” he said.
Such a conflict would be devastating, Schanzer believes. Hawkish Israeli politicians have been threatening to target not just Hezbollah, but the wider Lebanese state, in the event of a war. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in October last year that Lebanon’s “infrastructure, international airport and government facilities – it’s all game,” saying Israel should not discriminate between Hezbollah and Lebanon, even if requested to do so by the U.S.
Schanzer said Bennett’s words were “provocative, ... [but] the substance is consistent with what we have heard with centrist and left leaning types within Israel, which is that Hezbollah has placed its ... missiles in areas of high density populations.”
According to Schanzer, there is a gulf between what the U.S. wants from its Lebanese partner and what has so far been achieved. “The Pentagon sees the Israeli military as an asset; it has tried to craft the LAF as an asset as well,” he said. “It’s more aspirational than realistic. ... This is not where we are at the moment.”