Can Lebanon Handle Those Fancy Planes?

By The Beirut Spring

The average Lebanese are cheering the Russian deal. But a closer look should give them pause for thought.

It was by all means a feat by our Minister of defense Mr. Elias El Murr. As he toasted his celebratory vodka with his Russian counterpart, he must have predicted how the Lebanese, people and media, would be overjoyed by the promised spectacle of modern fighter jets wearing a cedar tree.

Politicians are rushing to embrace the story. To March 14, it’s “proof to Syria that Lebanon is an independent and sovereign country” as the Hariri-owned Al-Mustaqbal newspaper put it. To the Hezbollah and Arabist types, it’s an act of liberation from an Israeli-imposed ban on weapon sales to this country.

But regardless of which point of view you come from, it will not be hard for you to notice –after the party is over and the corks are swept away– that the Mig-29s could be a meal that the Lebanese will find hard to digest.

Not withstanding the political headache of of assigning pilots and staff to the liking of all sides, the economics of such a deal are ominous; as the Lebanese daily Assafir puts it:

?? ??? ??? ????? ?????? ?? ?????? ???????? ???? ?? ????? ??? ?????? ?????? ?? ????? ???????? ??? ????? ?????? ??????? ??? ???»??? ??«. ???? ?? ????? ????? ??? ??? ?? ????? ????? ?????? ?? ????? ??????? ??????? ??????? ??????? ???? ????? ?? ????????. ??? ?? ??? ????? ???? ??? ????? ???????? ????? ??????? ?????? ?? ???????? ????? ????????? ??????? ????? ????????? ?????? ??????? ???.

Translation: Are we capable of setting up an entire (military) system that begins with sending 30 Lebanese army officers -at least- to train as pilots for the Mig-29s, in addition to one hundred soldiers tasked with learning how to fully maintain such fighter jets? Not to mention the necessity of refurbishing and maintaining Lebanese airbases and hangars that would accommodate those planes.

The deal specifically states that the costs of maintaining and training the Migs should be borne by the Lebanese state. The same state, mind you, that is struggling to pay for teachers and workers and whose finances are so strained we had to beg for ParisII donors and their humiliating strings.

So the costs are high but the benefits should be worth it, right? I’m not too sure. Will 10 Mig-29s be sufficient to affect the balance of power with Israel? Would they present any form of military deterrence? What guarantees that the Israelis won’t just wipe them out in one preemptive strike like it did to the Egyptian Air Force back in 1967?

In other words, the Lebanese are about to take ownership of very expensive showpieces that would most likely just end up lying around.

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Tarek is the founder and chief researcher at Youngberry, a youth research and marketing firm dedicated to the region. Tarek founded and previously worked as Manager at Flip Media (Interactive Agency), (Job Site) and Consulting House Qatar (Consulting firm). He is researcher and writer on internet & disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, and youth culture.