Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher

Former British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

31st July 2013 Beirut, Lebanon

The Support to Match Their Courage

Tomorrow is Army Day in Lebanon. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) will parade, and the Lebanese people reflect on the role the military have played in maintaining stability over the past year, and the sacrifices they have made. I’ll join other Ambassadors in admiring the march past as Lebanese political leaders salute the LAF colours, while hoping that the August temperatures don’t take their toll on participants or spectators. As ever, we’ll be curious as to whether the special forces perform a favourite routine of biting the heads off snakes …

Amid anxiety about Lebanon’s capacity to weather the regional storm, I take great encouragement from the reports I see of the performance of Lebanese officers who train in the UK. They consistently outscore those from other countries – for example, one Lebanese naval officer is the only foreigner to have come top of the year at the Royal Naval College. These are exceptionally talented individuals, committed to safeguarding their country’s security, and we’re proud to help them gain the skills they need to do so.

People often speak of the LAF as the first line of defence for Lebanon. At times, with politics paralysed, they are in fact the only line of defence. As other parts of the state struggle, the army continues to command justifiably high level of Lebanese public confidence. I have often said that the international community must do more to give them the support to match their courage. Those nations contributing to UNIFIL certainly do so, as do those providing training and equipment.

Over the last two years, practical UK support to Lebanese stability has increased tenfold. We have recently announced an additional 15m USD for the LAF, agreed at a National Security Council meeting chaired in May by PM David Cameron. We will provide kit and training that the LAF have specifically requested to help stabilise the border with Syria – observation towers, Land Rovers, body armour, communications, improved infrastructure. It will make a difference.

When I talk on Twitter or in the media about support for the Lebanese Army, the response is overwhelmingly positive. But the main criticisms I get back, from different directions, are:

  • aren’t you prioritising stability over reform?’ This is always a tricky balance. Reform won’t happen without stability. Long term stability is impossible without reform. We work to support both.
  • does the West only give the LAF enough equipment to put out fires, but never enough to truly defend Lebanon from its difficult neighbours?’ A fair question. Our aspiration is that the LAF is built up to the point that it can properly defend Lebanon from any external and internal threats. But let’s be realistic – this won’t happen overnight.
  • what if the army colludes with Lebanese political groups, including Hizballah?’. We regularly receive (as I did again this week) reassurances from the LAF that they will act in an even handed way against threats to Lebanese stability, from wherever they come. We also recognise the extremely delicate political environment in which the LAF operate. The army draws membership and support from all Lebanese communities – that’s its core strength.
  • aren’t the biggest threats to the army coming from those the West are supporting?’ This is offensive nonsense, peddled by some Assad regime apologists. Of course the UK is not supporting, let alone arming, the groups undermining Lebanese stability. There are extremists among the Syrian opposition, just as there are among the Syrian regime – they don’t get UK support.
  • how can you support the LAF, and accept SCAF action in Egypt, while criticising the Syrian Army?’. This was a big theme in Twitter exchanges after the recent Saida operation. Yet for us, Abra demonstrated the gulf in the way that the LAF and Syrian Army operate, with a huge LAF effort to avoid civilian casualties, even at great cost to themselves. The contrast with Syria could not be greater.
  • why not more criticism of increased Israeli overflights’. I have often highlighted breaches of UNSCR 1701. Records show that overflights have indeed increased. We consistently lodge our criticisms with the UNSC.

Those answers won’t satisfy all the critics, I know. But we, the LAF and Lebanon don’t have the luxury of aiming for perfection. It is in Lebanon’s interests, and ours, that the LAF win the battle to keep Lebanon out of the war in Syria, and defend Lebanon’s sovereignty, freedoms and prosperity. We are proud to be backing them to do so.

10 comments on “The Support to Match Their Courage

  1. Thanks for year feedback, Tom. I shall.

    However, last time I contacted the FCO in London to enquire about the level of support it gives to Palestine under its international development programme, I was advised the value was a mere 9 million pounds per year. What is this going to do for a whole nation! Buying one building in certain districts of Lebanon costs that much!

    Why are Palestinians so much discriminated against in the Lebanon?

    Up until 2002, my mother was unable, as a British citizen, to own a property in Lebanon because of her Palestinian origins. I was told by Lebanese staff at the British consulate in Beirut that this measure is in the Palestinian interest so that they do not gradually get naturalised in the Lebanon if they own properties! Is this they way Britain treated the Jews when they fled Germany during WWII? As I see in Britain members of the Jewish community became Lords and sirs, prime ministers, ministers and MPs. They owned in Britain and became wealthy and were additionally able to set up a Jewish state in Palestine.

    Why is it that Palestinians are denied rights and get impoverished so not to forget their homeland if they own or get distracted from their cause if they work?

    Is Britain doing something about anti-Palestinian discrimination in the Lebanon?

    I think it is high time Britain faces the true reality of this calamity and offer its victims the support they need!

  2. How about Palestinian courage?

    Toughing it out for over 60 years in refugee camps with little support from the very country that should have helped them most: Britain!

    What is Britains plan for the future of Palestinians?

    Will you build homes to house them until their issue is resolved?

    Will you train their officers so that they protect their people?

    Will you train their doctors so that they have the medical service they deserve as the people of Jerusalem?

    Why not allow them entry and residence into Britain just like you are allowing scores of people under the umbrella of the EU?

    Why not pay them benefits after you had sold their country to gain wealth in this world?

    1. Thanks Haitham, have a look at some of my earlier posts about Palestine. We are providing significant amounts of money to UNRWA, to help house, feed and train Palestinians in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. But more important than this is the determined and constant effort we’re putting in to secure a more lasting solution – two states, both with security. I meet many Palestinians in Lebanon, and now many Palestinians displaced once again from Syria. I don’t for a moment underestimate the challenges, nor the frustration.

  3. Tom,

    How about the Palestinian refugees in the Lebanon, which Britain seem to have deserted after colonising their country and then handing it over to the Zionists to set up a state. Who actually protects them?

    Do you actually train Palestinian officers to protect their people or does Britain leave it to the good will of other nations!

    How many Palestinian doctors from the Lebanon did Britain train to help the Palestinian ill living in poorly conditions in the Lebanon. Why not extend NHS services to cover them outside Britain? Why not develop the hospitals they started in Beirut such as Haifa hospital.

    Will Britain build houses for Palestinians who have been living in refugee camps in the Lebanon since 1948. Why not allow them a safe haven in Britain where they can get some of the opportunities Britain deprived them of when the gave their country away?

  4. Mr ambassador…we are following your articles concerning Lebanon .and we do respect your positive approach towards our sure that ..we have a lot to give to the world if we get the chance to do so,we represent good against evil,we are the bridge between west and east ,we are the last small nation in the arab world who can still flourish the meaning of humanity among all.our existence is a need ,is a hope..the arab world is going to the unknown they need us united so they can follow…we are not a mistake in this universe ,and we need your government help to assist in keeping Lebanon united for the benefit of all.

  5. think the Ambassador is kidding himself if he thinks none of the equipment we the taxpayers are providing for the Lebanese Army will not fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Hezbollah call the shots in Lebanon. The EEC have prescribed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. What are we doing pumping equipment and money into Lebanon? Any fool can see that Hezbollah are supporting the Syrian Government. Also I am glad that Israel are keeping an eye on the situation. The Ambassador seems to forget Hezbollahs incursion into Israel a few years ago when they murdered seven Israeli border guards. You would get a greater return investing the $15 million in Israel as opposed to most of it ending up in the bank accounts of the corrupt dictatorship.

    1. I’m not kidding myself, or anybody. Supporting the army is an important way to help Lebanon defend itself. It is simply wrong to suggest that Lebanon and Hizballah are one and the same, or that Lebanon is a ‘corrupt dictatorship’.

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About Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011. Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford…

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011.

Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford College), graduating with a First class degree in Modern History. He has an MA in Modern History, and is a Senior Associate Member of St Anthony’s College for International Studies, Oxford.

He is married to Louise Fletcher and they have two sons, Charles (born 2006) and Theodor (born 2011). Tom enjoys political history, cricket (Strollers CC), and mountains, and is the co-founder of 2020 (a progressive think tank).

Tom was awarded the Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2011 New Year’s Honours, for services to the Prime Minister.