More people, sending more weapons to the Middle East -- marvelous.
Despite announcing plans to increase military support to Lebanon's army, the U.S. has stalled, prompting Russia to step in. Ten new fighter jets are to be sent to strengthen Lebanon's weak Air Force as Russia attempts to challenge American supremacy and shift the balance of power.
The move, announced by Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr, who met with Russia's military director Mikhail Dimitriev in Beirut recently, capitalizes on weakened American prestige and foreshadows a sign of strengthening ties between the two countries. Moscow is not selling the powerful MIG-29 fighter-bombers (which usually go for $30 million a piece) to Lebanon, they are giving it to them for free. The bombers, built to challenge the American F-16 fighter jets, are precisely the caliber of weapons Lebanon has been asking for and the U.S. has been reluctant to give to Israel's politically unstable neighbor.
Since Lebanon emerged from Syria's shadow several years ago, the U.S. has played a leading role in arming the Lebanese Armed Forces, though they have hesitated to offer advanced weaponry to appease Israeli fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah's assimilation into the Lebanese government and the prospect of renewed political power following the parliamentary elections next spring makes the possibility a plausibility, if not, probability.
After suffering serious losses during the 2006 summer war with Israel, Hezbollah reportedly increased its weapons arsenal three-fold, though they should have disarmed. Yet as they argued quite convincingly in the last war, they are the only group able to fend off a possible attack from Israel. Even though many tanks remain stationed at Beirut's intersections (with an especially large presence around the downtown Solider area), everyone in Lebanon knows the antiquated equipment of the Lebanese Armed Forces hardly matches Hezbollah's replenishing arsenal.
David Hale, US Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of State for Asia and Near East Affairs, warned that the rearmanment of Hezbollah through Iran and Syria might incite a confrontation with Israel. He also stressed the implementation of UN resolution 1701 that called for "the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon including Hezbollah so that there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state."
Though he did suggest the U.S. was considering donating air defense artillery to the Lebanese Armed Forces, he did not speak about Russia's role.
Russia is playing a perilous game. In challenging America, the world's second-largest exporter of conventional arms after the U.S. has pursued selling arms to a list of buyers (Syria, Iran and Venezuela) that are in-coincidentally America and Israel's biggest foes. A move, as provocative as it is precarious.
But Russia isn't only focused on using weapons and American enemies, they are also using natural resources and American friends. America is conveniently the world's largest consumer of natural gas. Russia, Iran and Qatar control 60% of the world's gas reserves, providing nearly a third of world natural gas exports. In partnering with Iran, America's biggest foe in the Middle East, and Qatar, America's biggest ally, Russia is poised to gain global political clout.
The eventual increase in oil prices will likely prompt businesses and governments to explore cleaner-burning natural gas. While the new gas cartel will not be nearly as influential as OPEC, since gas markets have not yet formed a proper global market, they will still have a heavy influence prices.
Two days before Christmas, Russia and 15 other gas exporters, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Venezuela, are expected to officially launch the creation of the organization.
Russia has already began flexing its muscles. It has tightened the supply of natural gas that reached the European Union, which relies on Russia for almost half of its imports and previously stopped the flow of gas to Belarus after the country refused to pay doubled rates per Gazprom's request.
Just today, a spokesman for Russia's Gazprom said they intend to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine it if failed to pay $2 billion in gas debt.
Back in November, when Barack Obama was chosen to lead America, Russia's leader, Demitri Medvedev announced the end of American hegemony and the deployment of missiles near it's border with Poland in a noticeably hostile address given within hours of Obama's victory speech.
"The world cannot be ruled from one capital," he said. "Those who do not want to understand this will only create new problems for themselves."
Since then, Russia has canceled past plans to withdraw intercontinental ballistic missile regiments from its borders with Europe and announced a curious series of arms deal.
While the terms of the Lebanese deal have yet to be finalized, it is expected to include training for Lebanese military servicemen in Russia and may eventually lead to the possible sale of Russian armor.
Ever since invading Georgia this past summer, Russia has set to establish closer ties with many U.S. enemies. President Hugo Chavez, a loud critic of America, recently signed an arms deals worth $4.4 billion with Russia. Next came news that Russia sent two long-range bombers and warships to Libertador Air Base in Venezuela for military exercises.
Sure, this may all be a classic case of saber-rattling, but how often does a country spend about $300 million dollars to send fighter jets to a country without another agenda?
The motto of Lebanon's Armed Forces is "Honor, Sacrifice and Loyalty," but their loyalties may start to shift from America elsewhere particularly if Russia continues to offer what the U.S. cannot.
At a famous fish restaurant on Beirut's corniche a waiter overheard me speaking English on the phone and asked me where I lived. I told him I had arrived in Beirut from New York, to which he replied, "Ah, America. I've been to Venezuela. You know Chavez? He is very, very good."