By Legacy Of Resistance
Forward by C.L.
The buying, selling, and trading of arms on the global market is a market as complex as it is ancient. While generally speaking, this market goes quite smoothly, there’s a potential scandal around the corner with almost every purchase, especially in a region as volatile as the Middle East. This interview, conducted by our partner and writer “Legacy Of Resistance”, covers just one of these scandals, and this is not one you’ve likely heard of. This deal was between Lebanon and France, with the goal of acquiring a fleet of French-made Crotale SAM (Surface-to-air missile) systems to guard Lebanese airspace from neighboring threats. His source is a verified former official within the Lebanese Armed Forces that was present at the time of this debacle, and directly saw its effects on Lebanon as well as the proceedings that made it the conundrum that it was.
The original Arabic audio for this interview is located at the bottom of this article, as well as on Legacy Of Resistance’s Instagram.
What are the origins of this deal, who in Lebanon brokered it, and what was the main reason behind Lebanon’s need for the Crotale missiles?
The Lebanese government needed to provide weapons for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)’s air defense, so the government made a deal with the French, so that they would provide us with a deal for these missiles. They (the French) were paid, but the missiles never came.
And the Crotale missiles are SAMs?
Yes, and they were capable of covering the entire Lebanese airspace, and it was a very effective weapons system back in those days.
Which year are we talking?
Approximately the late 1960’s.
Before the civil war?
Before the civil war, yes. When the missiles never came, and they (the government) were asked about their whereabouts, they said that they were still being manufactured, and that we had already paid their cost. Lebanon had paid France their money, and we couldn’t get the money back. By then, it was obvious that the deal was a scam.
But granted that the Lebanese paid for the missiles, but were told that they were being manufactured, does this count as a French mistake?
No, no, they (the government) were lying to the people about the fact that they were being manufactured.
So the government told us (the Lebanese people) that they were being manufactured?
But what was the French side’s comment?
The French never played a role in this, it was entirely a Lebanese affair.
The latency was Lebanese?
Yes, the latency was Lebanese in origin, because when you want to buy a weapon, you pay for it, and then you get it delivered. Or you open a (defense) credit and you get the deal. As I said, the weapons system never got delivered. And when the officials were asked, they said that the French were manufacturing the missiles for us. It turned out to be a big lie. They stole the money for the deal.
And what was the media’s reaction, the reaction of the populace, or even the army? I know that because of this scandal, the army’s chief of staff resigned and fled to Syria, and that this scandal marked the first incident of corruption in the modern Lebanese state.
Back in those days, the media wasn’t as versatile as it it nowadays. For example, nowadays, if you wanted to breathe at home, they would know that you took a breath at home. The media will cover it. But back in those days, the media was weak. There was only the national radio station and news station. They ran all of the media coverage. And would the the state news channel cover news against the state? No, they would mention that the arms were late or being manufactured.
But in the Lebanese circles, no one knew what was going on exactly?
The politicians know of course,
Of course, but what about the Lebanese people?
There was a media blackout. Back in those days, we couldn’t understand what happened. We couldn’t know. We were young but we didn’t know. Whereas nowadays, a child knows about everything in Lebanon, the Arab World, and the planet.
Considering the fact that you have some experience in the logistical branches of the army, what were talks of this scandal like during the war? Because the war saw the reveal of many corruption cases that touched multiple political sides, but those sides only revealed those corruption cases on the basis of “I’m not as fraudulent, my opponent is!” So from that fact, what were the cases being revealed? And what was the army’s reaction?
The army couldn’t ask questions about the details of an arms deal. The army received its orders from the government, because it was tied to the political structure. It cannot voice its opinion. It can only confirm the delivery or lack of it in this case. The army didn’t have an option.
And what was the sort of talk between the troops and officers in regards to this scandal? Was the tone normal, or was there some discretion? Did the officers prefer that the subject was not spoken of because of the scandal it generated?
As I said, the army didn’t get to voice its opinion, even if the scandal was obvious. There wasn’t any way for the officer and soldier to talk about it. There was serious discretion around this case, and only a few officers know about its details, mostly those responsible for the logistical inspections, and it was only discovered by coincidence.
And there was a certain defense committee back then to be held accountable for the defense budget?
Of course, it was the Supreme Defense Council.
And what officials do you remember being in office at the time, or do you prefer not saying?
It is said that mostly the Kataeb Party was the most involved, considering its influential role in Lebanese politics back in the day.
Considering the Kataeb didn’t have their own representative in active government positions maybe, like the presidency for example, or head of cabinet-
In all honesty, I can tell you that the ex-president Amine Al Gemayyel was behind this scandal. He had a big part in this. We didn’t have much information, but the rumors were spreading about this scandal that Amine Al Gemayyel was behind this deal and was the one who benefited from it. I can’t accuse him of fraud, because we did not know of any details back then.
And what was the fate of the missiles and money from that deal?
They were never reclaimed, the money never came back.
And the missiles?
They were never delivered. They weren’t even manufactured. And this is where the scandal lies.
Don’t the French also count as partners in crime, considering that they received the money but never delivered the arms?
And who said that the French received the money? Who knows?
Which means there’s a loose end.
Yes. This is the mysterious loophole.
So if we’re talking late 60’s and early 70’s, we’re saying that it was during the administration of President Franjieh?
I don’t remember exactly, but it was in the late 60’s, because Lebanon had its Phantom-3 aircraft, and even the F-3 and F-5. Even the Israelis didn’t have that kind of air superiority back then, they didn’t have them back in the day.
So the Crotale Missile Scandal can be seen as a balancing act between the Lebanese military capabilities and the Israeli ones?
Yes, you could say that. It was probably a ruse to keep Lebanon from having that sort of air defense, to keep Lebanon from maintaining its strength in terms of air defense and ground operations, so this was the tip of the iceberg in the process of weakening the Lebanese army and state.
And the air defense system, if we were to call it an effective one, was the Crotale deal a way with which the Lebanese were trying to maintain the Barouk Radar or was it entirely different?
That radar was a consequence of the upcoming deal.
So the radar was made before the deal?
It was made for the rockets to spot enemy aircraft and intercept it with the weapons system. If not for that we wouldn’t have needed that radar.
Granted that those Phantoms gave us that kind of air superiority, would we be able to pose a threat to the Israelis without the presence of the Crotale missiles?
Of course, but to defend your country you should have a balance in terms of weapons. You should have the offensive weapons, which were the aircraft in our case, as well as defensive weapons such as the missiles. You should go both ways; offense and defense.
But the Lebanese defense couldn’t rely solely on the Phantoms?
The aircraft is usually used in offense, and the missiles in defense. But we did have primitive air defense which was mainly comprised of anti-air gun batteries.
But the 60’s made those guns ineffective?
Yes, you see these guns mostly used in urban combat nowadays.
Yes, we saw these guns commonly used…
Yes, the M23 (ZU-23).
We saw them in action in the civil war, quite commonly used in the more urban battlefields…