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Saudi Arabia halts $4B in Lebanese deals amid Iran spat

Bassem Mroue and Jon Gambrell
Associated Press

Beirut — Saudi Arabia announced on Friday it is halting deals worth $4 billion aimed at equipping and supporting Lebanese security forces, a likely retaliation for the tiny country’s siding with Iran amid the Sunni kingdom’s spat with the Shiite powerhouse.

The surprise announcement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, comes as deeply divided Lebanon struggles to handle the fallout from neighboring Syria’s raging civil war. The Lebanese government declined to immediately comment on the Saudi decision.

One deal involves Saudi Arabia paying $3 billion to buy French arms for the Lebanese military. The other involves a $1 billion support deal for the Lebanese police.

Saudi Arabia said it halted the deals because of recent Lebanese positions “which are not in line with the brotherly relations between the two countries.” It did not elaborate.

However, it comes after Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil declined to support resolutions against Iran during two meetings of Arab and Muslim foreign ministers. Bassil is the president of the right-wing Christian Free Patriotic Movement, which is one of the strongest allies of the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia long has been suspicious of the predominantly Shiite Iran, which supports Hezbollah and Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad. Relations took a turn for the worse at the start of the year, when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric and protesters stormed Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran. That in turn prompted Riyadh to cut diplomatic relations with Tehran.

The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in the country, and draws its ranks from all of Lebanon’s sects. However, it’s widely viewed as being much weaker than Hezbollah.

Historically, the Lebanese army has been equipped by the United States and France.