Saudi Arabia will channel $3 billion to the Lebanese army over five years in an effort that analysts interpret as a direct challenge to Hezbollah's dominance over Lebanon, The Wall Street Journal reported
The aid comes in the wake of the Dec. 27 car bomb assassination of Mohamad Chatah, a leading Lebanese Sunni politician and critic of Hezbollah.
The money, which challenges what the BBC termed
Hezbollah's "unchecked power," has the potential of altering Lebanon's political structure and could exacerbate sectarian tensions.
Gulf sources told the Journal that the Saudis do not want a direct confrontation with Hezbollah only to "rebalance" its influence in Lebanon.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, a Christian, said Lebanon would use the Saudi money to purchase weapons from France, the BBC reported.
The Journal described the money as intended to strengthen the government's forces against Hezbollah which is backed by non-Arab Iran. Sleiman described it as intended to enable the Lebanese army to "confront terrorism."
The Saudi money far exceeds Lebanon's entire $1.7 billion annual defense budget, according to the Journal.
Demographics play a key role in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni, supports the Sunni insurgency against the Assad regime in neighboring Syria, while Shiite Hezbollah has committed fighters to Assad.
Many Lebanese army officers are Shiite and some Sunnis distrust the force as being partial to Hezbollah, the Journal reported.
Meanwhile, the Saudis have been critical
of what they see as the lack of American assertiveness in the region particularly regarding Syria and Iran's nuclear program.
They have responded by more closely aligning with France and generously backing regional allies including the military regime in Egypt.
An earlier U.S. offer to provide $8.7 million to Lebanon's army was ridiculed as too little by Sleiman, the Journal reported.
There are signs that al-Qaida is gaining a foothold among the Sunni population in Lebanon particularly in Tripoli and Sidon.
The Saudis, while adhering to a strict form of Islam, are longtime antagonists of al-Qaida.
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