Update on the 10 MiG29s for Lebanon

02Dec09

A Russian military delegation is inspecting airfields before Moscow sends 10 MiG-29 fighter jets to bolster Lebanon‘s almost non-existent air force, a challenge to U.S. efforts to build up the Mediterranean country’s state institutions to counter Hezbollah. Under a deal announced in December by Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr during a visit to Moscow, Russia will provide the MiG-29s from its air force inventory free of charge, including upgrades, under a military assistance program.

The Americans have supplied second- and third-hand military equipment including M-60A3 main battle tanks (ex-Jordanian) and M-198 155mm artillery guns, worth $400 million to Lebanon since 2006.

But the U.S. refuses to provide advanced weapons systems on the grounds these could be used against Israel.

Their rationale is, that building up Lebanon’s armed forces will help stabilize the country and provide a legitimate alternative to Hezbollah that would undercut the Iranian-backed movement’s justification for maintaining its own military forces.

By providing MiG-29s, even in such modest numbers, Moscow is seeking to outmaneuver the United States in Lebanon, as it is across the Middle East through political means as well as large-scale military sales.

Yet – is it difficult to see how the Lebanese MiGs, a product of the 1990s and intended as a counter to the early model U.S. F-16, will alter the balance of power in any practical way in the region despite its speed, maneuverability and advanced weaponry.
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