BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United States delivered laser-guided rockets valued at more than $16 million to the Lebanese military on Wednesday, demonstrating what it said was Washington’s “firm and steady commitment” to Lebanon’s army.
The United States has supplied the Lebanese military with more than $2.3 billion in assistance since 2005, aiming to support it as “the sole, legitimate defender” of a country where the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah holds major sway.
A statement from the U.S. embassy in Beirut said the missiles, delivered in a U.S. military transport plane, were a key component for a previously supplied fleet of A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, during a visit to Lebanon this week, reiterated his country’s long-standing offer of support to the Lebanese army but said Lebanon had first to show “a desire” to accept it.
The leader of Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist group by Washington, said last week he was ready to secure air defense systems for the Lebanese army from Iran and to bring it “everything it wants to be the strongest army in the region”.
Hezbollah’s Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah asked why Lebanon was “ignoring” Iran while “offering our necks to others” – an apparent reference to the United States, which has tightened sanctions against his group.
Hezbollah’s direct role in government has expanded in the new cabinet led by the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, assuming control of three portfolios including the health ministry, which has a major budget.
Writing by Tom Perry; editing by John Stonestreet