Lebanon plans to increase its military presence along its southern border with Israel, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Thursday at a meeting in Rome, where he is seeking financial support for the armed forces.
Bolstering Lebanon’s army and internal security forces is seen as a way for the international community to keep Hezbollah, which has helped sway the Syrian civil war in Assad’s favour, from broadening its clout in the Lebanese heartland.
Some 40 countries participated in the meeting, along with and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. While some financial aid was announced on Thursday, Hariri said that the goal of the meeting was not to gather pledges.
The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) took no part in the 2006 war between Israel and the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah terror group. Since then, it has received more than $1.5 billion in U.S. military assistance and, in the last seven years, training and support from U.S. special forces.
“We will be sending more LAF troops to the south, and we stress our intention to deploy another regiment,” he said, adding that Israel “remains the primary threat to Lebanon”.
“While we are thinking of ways to move from a state of cessation of hostilities to a state of permanent ceasefire, Israel continues to make plans to build walls on reservation areas along the blue line,” Hariri said.
Hariri dismissed concerns that weapons intended for the Lebanese army would end up in the hands of Hezbollah terrorists, saying: “We have never lost a weapon to anyone… and it will never happen in the future.”
In a joint statement, the conference participants said Lebanon should “accelerate effective and durable deployments to the South”.
The U.N. Security Council has allowed for 15,000 Lebanese troops to be deployed along the border since the end of the 2006 war.
Israel is ready for an all-out ground operation in Lebanon, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier this year.
“No one is looking for adventures, but if we have no choice the goal is to end [the fighting] as quickly and as unequivocally as possible.”
Israel will act tough on Lebanon, the minister warned. He particularly said that the situation of the Second Lebanon War, “in which the residents of Beirut were at the beach and in Tel Aviv [they were] in bomb shelters,” will not repeat itself if a new conflict breaks out. “If in Israel they sit in shelters, then in the next fighting all of Beirut will be in shelters,” Liberman added.