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Russian donation of 10 Mig-29 fighters to Lebanon raises suspicions
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20:54, December 17, 2008

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The announcement about Russian donation of 10 Mig-29 jet fighters to the Lebanese army was a surprising news which raised political, military and strategic questions, local daily As-Safir said Wednesday.

Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr announced Tuesday following a meeting with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukove in Moscow that Russia has agreed to deliver to Lebanon 10 Mig-29 jet fighters.

The Mig-29 would be a significant donation to the Lebanese air force which currently consists of five Hawker Hunter jets from 1950s and 1960s, and a dozen helicopters.

The first question raised, the report said, is why the Lebanese army has always been forbidden from acquiring any heavy weapons, under the pretext of threatening the security of Israel, and now the 10 Mig-29 are going to be boarding in Lebanese airports.

The other question is related to Lebanon's ability to maintain the Russian donation, by sending 30 officers to be trained on flying the jets, and around 100 army soldiers to be trained on complete maintenance of such jets, in addition to the maintenance of the air force bases in Lebanon, at a time the Lebanese cabinet is refusing to pay the 20 percent allowance for field services to the Lebanese army soldiers.

The value of these jets would be worthless if they were not accompanied by radars, and early warning system for air defense, the report said.

The report hinted to a connection between the Russian donation and the upcoming dialogue session on Dec. 22 at the presidential palace in Lebanon, to discuss national defense strategy.

The daily also asked if there was a connection between the Russian deal with Murr, and the visit of Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri to Moscow last November.

Hariri reportedly was quoted then as telling Russian Interfax news agency that Washington's military support was limited to light weaponry and Lebanon need more powerful equipment like tanks and artillery.

The U.S. has given around 410 million dollars in military aid to Lebanon, in the form of equipment and training, while other countries have said they are willing to participate in arming the Lebanese army.

Iran had offered to supply the Lebanese army with mid-range rockets as part of a five-year defense deal during the visit of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to Tehran last month.

The Lebanese president was also reported to have asked Germany for tanks during his visit there earlier this month.

Source: Xinhua

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