With an eye on neighboring Syria's backslide into violence, Saudi Arabia is pledging $3 billion to Lebanon to buy weapons from France in order to shore up its army. "I am happy to tell the Lebanese people that the Saudi ruler will give a grant of $3 billion to strengthen the army," President Michel Sleiman said in a surprise announcement today carried by a state news agency. He called the largest-ever pledge for Lebanon's army, and said French President Francois Hollande was to discuss the matter during his visit today to Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for Hollande said he did not yet have details; in a separate report, the AP notes that Saudi Arabia's increasing frustration with US foreign policy in the Mideast has led it to reach out to France.
Lebanon has seen a wave of deadly bombings and shootings that have fueled fears that the country, which suffered a brutal 15-year civil war of its own that only ended in 1990, could be slowly slipping back toward full-blown sectarian conflict. In a nod to those concerns, Sleiman said in his address that "Lebanon is threatened by sectarian conflict and extremism," and said that strengthening the army is a popular demand. (Read more Lebanon stories.)