Beirut, Lebanon -A Lebanese Air Force helicopter flies over a blurred green field and snow-capped mountains, allowing visitors to overlook the Levantine country from above.
The photo posted on the armed forces website did not capture the seaside, and it was not well taken, and failed to capture the vast beauty of this small Mediterranean country. However, at such a desperate moment, this idea is very clever and urgently needed.
Each ride only costs US$150, but it must be paid in cash. Since the economic crisis intensified in 2019, the country’s reserves are rapidly depleting, so the U.S. dollar is scarce.
The money is to help this financially-strapped institution pay the salaries of soldiers, while civilians are in poverty and cannot make ends meet.
As the Lebanese currency plummeted, which depreciated by 95% last month, the Lebanese Armed Forces were also affected.
The agency employs approximately 80,000 men, most of whom earn the equivalent of US$800 per month, but now earn between US$70-90. This is far from what they need to buy food, pay for commuting, educate their children and health care.
Sami Nader, a political analyst in Lebanon, said that if these forces are not helped immediately, jungle law will prevail.
“They only make 2 to 3 dollars a day, and the soldiers can’t pay for transportation. How do they guard the border and keep internal peace?” Nader asked. “All the elements of civil strife are there. If we don’t have a functioning army, it will be chaos.”
Since the end of the 15-year bloody civil war in 1990, the Lebanese Armed Forces have moved cautiously and effectively among the country’s many sects, maintaining internal peace.
Since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah (the Iranian-backed anti-Israel militia), they have remained calm on the turbulent border with Israel. They must also maintain a power balance with Hezbollah, which is often seen as their challenger.
They protect Lebanon’s borders from the armed group Islamic State (ISIS) because it expanded in neighboring countries and contained the threat of the Nusra Front-former al-Qaeda affiliates emerged in the Syrian conflict.
Moreover, it is the only institution in Lebanon that is respected by the Lebanese people and exerts a certain moral authority when the political class is deeply despised by its corruption and inefficiency.
A big hole in their pocket caused panic at the highest level. They worried about how to feed their men and their families so that they could continue to guard the country’s many troubled borders.
The Lebanese Army Chief of Staff Joseph Aoun warned in a video posted on Twitter that if there is no support, the armed forces may collapse. “How can a soldier feed a family whose salary does not exceed $90?” he asked.
“Where are we going? What are you waiting for? What are you planning to do? We have warned of the danger of this situation more than once,” Aoun advised the political class to abandon its indifference to the people’s plight and put forward a plan.
However, the ruling elite has turned a deaf ear to the position of the cabinet and continues to quarrel over the cabinet position to prevent the formation of the government needed to negotiate a rescue plan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At the end of last month, Aoun rushed to France to win the support of the international community and rescue the armed forces.
“The Chief of Staff of the Lebanese Army informed us of this issue, and we are very worried that the Lebanese Army may disintegrate,” a French diplomatic source told Al Jazeera.
“France has begun to provide assistance with food rations, medicines and basic equipment, but more is needed. We are trying to mobilize international partners in the meeting.”
More than 20 countries participated in the meeting held in Paris in mid-June, but they did not disclose the details of how they plan to support the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The international community is worried that if the armed forces disintegrate, local sectarian militias will rise in a mature country and fall into complete chaos.
Lebanon has always been an oasis of stability in the region, coping with countless conflicts, and is also the last outpost for refugees fleeing war-torn countries to Europe.
The survival of the Lebanese army is essential to avoid another wave of immigration to Europe and any future bastion of confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel.
‘We need cash’
Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese general, said the army needs cash support, not just aid. “Paris didn’t mention cash. They didn’t allow cash to be provided in foreign aid. They only provided materials-ammunition, etc.,” the general said.
“What we need is cash. If a soldier earns 70 or 80 or 90 dollars, what is his morality? If you can increase his salary by 100-200 dollars so that he can at least survive, that would be great Many. There are about 80,000 soldiers in our army, and they almost all went bankrupt. They need at least one soldier in cash assistance of $100 a month.”
Otherwise, he warned that most soldiers might leave the army. “Many people are considering looking for another job to earn a living. Others want to leave the country.”
At the beginning of this year, this number dropped sharply, at least 3,000 fewer than previously reported.
After Director Aoun met with senior State Department officials and Defense Department officials in May, the United States has provided an additional $15 million in aid to the Lebanese Army in 2021. But this is still a small part of the billions of dollars that the United States provides to Israel each year.
The Lebanese Armed Forces have sent a distress signal to the world’s major powers-“Help us before it is too late.”