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Cablegate: Saudi Butter for Lebanese Guns

VZCZCXYZ0018
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHC #1325 3192106
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P R 142053Z NOV 08
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH PRIORITY 0000
INFO RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0000
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 0000

S E C R E T STATE 121325

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/14/2018
TAGS: PREL PTER PM LE SA
SUBJECT: SAUDI BUTTER FOR LEBANESE GUNS

Classified By: NEA PDAS Jeffrey Feltman for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) This is an action request. Please see paragraph three.

SUMMARY
-------

2. (C) The Department seeks Saudi assistance to deliver
advanced capabilities to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in
advance of Lebanon's 2009 legislative elections. The LAF has
requested Cessna Caravan gunships for close air support as
well as a third-party transfer of Jordanian M-60 tanks, which
will require refurbishment and possibly upgrade. These
systems will help the LAF counter threats to Lebanon's
internal security, demonstrate political support for the LAF
and the Lebanese government, bolster the electoral prospects
of March 14 and like-minded independents seeking a government
monopoly on the use of force in Lebanon, and bolster public
confidence in the LAF as an alternative to Hizballah.

OBJECTIVES
----------

3. (C/REL SAUDI ARABIA) Embassy Riyadh is requested to
approach senior Saudi interlocutors in pursuing the following
objectives:

-- Request a $60M grant to the LAF earmarked for the purchase
of Cessna Caravan gunships requested by the LAF for close air
support, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and surveillance
missions. We expect to deliver at least one aircraft before
Lebanon's 2009 elections.

-- Request a $60M grant to the LAF earmarked for the
refurbishment and possible upgrade of 66 Jordanian M-60 tanks
requested by the LAF for third-party transfer from Jordan,
complete with appropriate ammunition. (Note: Jordan has
offered M-60A1 tanks, but Lebanon may request M-60A3 tanks or
an upgrade of the M-60A1 tanks to M-60A3 standards.) We
expect to deliver a company of tanks (approximately 11-14)
before Lebanon's 2009 elections.

-- Note that the provision of these systems to the LAF is
subject to further procedural hurdles, including Exceptions
to National Disclosure Policy (ENDPs), formal authorization
to sell/transfer the systems, and Congressional notification.
Given the intent to provide some assistance prior to
Lebanon's elections and the need to identify funding
immediately, we chose to approach Saudi Arabia as soon as we
and the LAF had identified a package of items that would
address the LAF's military needs and the U.S.-Saudi desire to
provide high-visibility assistance.

REPORTING DEADLINE
------------------

4. (U) Post is requested to report the results of this
demarche by cable to NEA/ELA Lebanon Desk Officer Matthew
Irwin and PM/RSAT Lebanon Desk Officer David Burke by
Thursday, November 20.

BACKGROUND
----------

5. (SBU) Saudi Arabia has been a strong political and
financial backer of the LAF since mid-2007 when it quietly
provided $100M to support LAF operations against Fatah
al-Islam militants in Lebanon's Nahr al-Barid refugee camp.
This assistance came in addition to a $1B deposit in the
Central Bank of Lebanon after the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war
and millions of dollars of humanitarian, reconstruction, and
development assistance since 2006.

6. (C) Saudi Arabia has also pressed the United States to
provide advanced capabilities to the LAF to ensure it is
prepared to respond to emerging crisis and, more
strategically, as a political and military counterweight to
Syrian and Iranian support for Hizballah. Various Saudi
officials including Prince Bandar as-Sultan and King Abdullah
himself have previously indicated to U.S. and Lebanese
officials, including Defense Minister Elias Murr and
parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, that they would be
willing to help the LAF procure more advanced capabilities if
and when they were offered by the United States.

7. (S) After assessing the LAF's military needs, the
availability of U.S. equipment, and regional policy concern
including Israel's qualitative military edge (QME), the
Departments of State and Defense are moving to provide three
Cessna Caravan gunships and a third-party transfer of 66
Jordanian M-60 tanks pending consultations with Congress and
our regional allies. These items would represent a
qualitatively different level of assistance than has been
provided to the LAF since the mid-1980s. None of these
systems is assessed as a threat to Israel's QME.

POINT OF CONTACT
----------------

8. (U) Please contact NEA/ELA Lebanon Desk Officer Matthew
Irwin or PM/RSAT Lebanon Desk Officer David Burke with
questions or for further background information.
RICE

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