PARIS – International donors on Thursday pledged tens of millions of dollars in emergency aid to help support the struggling Lebanese army, a key institution for the stability of the country which lacks basic commodities, including food. From Paris, Lisa Bryant has more for VOA on the meeting, hosted by France and Italy.]]
The donations were made during a virtual meeting organized by France and Italy. A French government statement, released after the talks, said support for the Lebanese military would be aimed at meeting basic human and maintenance needs and would not replace essential reforms the country needs.
An army spokeswoman told VOA aid would go to things like food, fuel and medical supplies and would be released within weeks or months.
Since 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value against the US dollar. In addition, the government plans to cut subsidies on key products like fuel and food.
Heiko Wimmen, director of the Lebanon project at the Crisis Group Institute for International Policy, said that “ordinary soldiers who made the equivalent of $ 1,000 a month, or so, now earn the equivalent of $ 100 because that prices have increased considerably “.
“Basically,” he added, “the soldiers are hungry. And the budget the military has to buy anything – to buy spare parts, to buy everything it needs for its day-to-day business – those budgets have become completely meaningless.
Above the fight
For Lebanon and the donor community, the funding would support one of the few institutions remaining above the country’s deep divisions. Army chief Joseph Aoun, who recently visited Paris, said the military has been forced to look to allies for survival.
University of Geneva international relations professor Hasni Abidi said that for the international community the implications of letting the Lebanese army collapse were too great. A failing army means a failing state, a struggling population and a victory for Iran-backed Hezbollah, the military group dominating the power structure in Lebanon. The army is also securing Lebanon’s border with Israel.
The Lebanese economy began to collapse in 2019, after years of political corruption and mismanagement. French President Emmanuel Macron has visited the country several times and led international aid efforts, including this one. But he also sharply criticized his political leaders for failing to carry out key reforms.
The problem with Thursday’s meeting, analysts said, was that it offered only an interim solution.
“But the alternative is to say, ‘OK, okay, let it all fall apart and crash and let it burn’ … to finally force those [political] players to cope with the music, ”said Wimmen of the International Crisis Group. “This is of course a big bet. We have seen in the region what the collapse of the state can mean. “
Once divided along sectarian lines during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, the military has recovered to become a unifying force that is one of the most professional in the Middle East.
The military’s largest foreign donor, the United States, has pledged to increase its support this year.