What's going on? A Russo-Lebanese military agreement is notable because unlike neighboring Syria, Lebanon and its military have been oriented toward the West. While the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) do use some Russian weapons such as tanks and rifles, in 2008 the LAF turned down offered Moscow's offer of ten free MiG-29 fighters.
Most equipment is American and Western European, including M60 and M48 tanks, M113 armored personnel carriers and TOW antitank missiles. According to Security Assistance Monitor, the Obama and Trump administrations sent more than $357 million in arms to Lebanon since 2008. Some of the hardware included to Lebanon includes M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and an upcoming sale of six MD-530G attack helicopters to aid in the country’s fight against ISIS.
American support for the country continues in spite of accusations that the LAF has become an auxiliary of Hezbollah—which would mean that Washington is effectively arming its enemies.
But the more pressing question is whether Lebanon will become another Russian ally like Syria. Damascus provided the naval base of Tartus during the Cold War, giving Moscow a friendly port on the Mediterranean. Now, Russian troops and aircraft are based in Syria in support of the Assad government, which recently agreed to allow nuclear-powered Russian warships to operate out of Tartus.
And what does Lebanon get? "They want a protective umbrella against Israel," says Tony Badran, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And just as important, Beirut could use the prospect of a Russo-Lebanese military treaty to induce the United States to offer more aid.
US troops must immediately shut down their zone of control in southern Syria in the area of Al-Tanf, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested when asked what should be done to help the Syrian peace settlement.
Lavrov was referring to an area on Syria’s border with Jordan and Iraq, which the US declared to be under its protection last year. Among other things, it contains the Rukban refugee camp.
The facility is apparently used by radical militants, including members of UN-designated terrorist group best known by its former name Al-Nusra Front, to recover and raid other parts of Syria, Lavrov said at the Valdai Club conference on the Middle East in Moscow. The US is turning a blind eye to such abuses of its protection, he added.
“Inside the Al-Tanf zone, which the Americans unilaterally declared under their protection, and inside the refugee camp jihadists are regularly reported to recover strength. On several occasions they conducted raids from there into other territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. This zone must be shut down immediately,” the Russian minister said.
The minister added Russia has mounting evidence that the US has no intention to oppose this jihadist group in earnest.
The response came after a question from the think tank International Crisis Group about what “Russia could do more” in Syria to prevent an escalation of violence there, particularly between Iran and Israel. Lavrov said the question should be “what the US could refrain from doing” in Syria and that the answer was “stop playing dangerous games” and cease trying to partition the nation.
Lavrov also commented on the situation in the southwestern part of Syria on the border with Jordan and Israel – which was designated as a “de-escalation zone” by Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran – and Israel’s interests in Syria.
Israel accuses Iran of using proxy forces to seize control of parts of southern Syria, including those along the border, and has threatened to use military force to reverse the situation.
The Russian diplomat added that the US carving out the Al-Tanf area was the exact opposite – a unilateral move that no other party agreed to.