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.
The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in the country, and draws its ranks from all of Lebanon’s sects. But it has struggled to contain the escalating violence in the country since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. It is also widely considered much weaker than the Shiite Hezbollah militant group, armed and funded by regional Shiite-power and Saudi-rival Iran.
The Saudi pledge appeared aimed, at least in part, at boosting the military in relation to Hezbollah.
Historically, the Lebanese army has been equipped by the United States and France. Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid in recent years to Lebanon that has included armored vehicles, weapons and training for the Lebanese army. The U.S. says the program aims to strengthen Lebanese government institutions.
Lebanon’s tenuous grip on stability was made clear Friday, when a car bomb killed senior Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, who had been critical of Syria and Hezbollah.
On Sunday, hundreds of mourners packed into a landmark mosque in downtown Beirut to bid farewell to Chatah, a former finance minister and top aide to ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Chatah, a Sunni, was affiliated with Hariri’s Western-backed coalition, which has been locked in a bitter feud with a rival camp led by Hezbollah. Hariri, whose own father was killed by a massive car bomb in 2005, has indirectly blamed Hezbollah for Chatah’s assassination.
After a somber funeral service inside Beirut’s blue-domed Mohammed al-Amin Mosque, pallbearers carried Chatah’s casket to the adjacent funeral tent where he was buried next to Hariri’s father, Rafik. At several points during the ceremony, some in the crowd broke into chants of “a terrorist, a terrorist, Hezbollah is a terrorist!”