Lebanon's weapons

In this highly mechanized age, armies need a way to move their troops quickly and securely over short distances. The armored personnel carrier - often referred to as the APC - meets this requirement. It's especially valuable in areas where there is likely to be sniper fire, such as Beirut and environs: That's why the Lebanese Army had placed an order with the United States for about 130 of these mobile troop carriers.

But no one knows what the future holds for this disintegrating Army. Some of its forces have gone over to the opposing Muslim sides or otherwise refused to fight for Amin Gemayel. Thus it was a wise move for the US to hold up, at least temporarily, the delivery of these APCs.

Further, the Department of Defense similarly may suspend delivery of a request for 35 tanks for the Lebanese Army, even if the Congress approves the sale. With the defeat of the Lebanese Army by Muslim forces in recent days, much of the Army's equipment has fallen into the hands of warring factions. Shiite and Druze Muslim militias in and around Beirut have benefited from the Army's supplies, ranging from tanks to ammunition for hand-held weapons. And American television screens last week showed members of Christian Phalange forces picking up a large number of weapons abandoned by the Army - tanks, jeeps, and small arms.

Thus the US has unintentionally provided both Christian and Muslim forces with much of the weaponry they would need to continue their long struggle.

This is not the first time that armaments provided by the US have gone from the armies for which they were intended to opposition forces. Vietnam is the classic example, but the problem has existed in El Salvador as well, with the capture by guerrillas of American-made rifles and other arms.

Given the current instability of the Lebanese situation, it is wise to withhold deliveries to Lebanon's Army of major arms systems such as APCs and tanks until credible evidence exists that the situation has stabilized.

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