UK army seeks unrestricted access to Lebanon: Report

The clauses of a proposed memorandum with Beirut include giving British troops immunity and authority to move around Lebanon armed and in uniform

Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar revealed on 21 November, citing diplomatic and military sources, that the UK wants to give its army access to Lebanese soil through a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Beirut.

“There is a draft being discussed at the official and military level for an MoU between the government of the United Kingdom, represented by its ambassador to Lebanon, Hamish Cowell, and the Lebanese government, represented by the Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun,” multiple sources confirmed to the Lebanese outlet.

The MoU, reviewed by Al-Akhbar, discusses “support for the armed forces of the United Kingdom when they are deployed on Lebanese territory.”

The draft does not clarify the reasons or circumstances under which British forces would seek permission to deploy troops on Lebanese territory. 

“The memorandum is full of many clauses that explicitly affect Lebanese sovereignty and give British forces privileges on Lebanese soil,” the Al-Akhbar report adds. 

According to an official source cited by the newspaper, this proposed agreement has been in the works since before the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October in the Gaza envelope. 

The MoU goes on to explain that the presence of the UK military in Lebanon would include “all military personnel with their ships, aircraft, machinery, stores, equipment, communications, ammunition, weapons and supplies, in addition to civilian members of the forces with air, sea and land resources and auxiliary personnel.”

No location of deployment or number of troops is specified in the document. 

The agreement aims to “ensure that the entry of the British armed forces into Lebanese airspace or territorial waters is not obstructed, even if this military force does not obtain prior diplomatic licenses.” 

It also aims to provide “the highest priority for armed forces aircraft and medical evacuation aircraft, including helicopters, and providing unrestricted access to Lebanese airspace to perform emergency missions.”

The clauses include granting British military personnel immunity from arrest or prosecution, adding that if any are detained, they must be immediately handed over to UK forces. Another is giving them authority to move around the country armed and in uniform.

“The memorandum guarantees that, in the event of a misinterpretation or non-compliance with the terms, Lebanon will not be able to resort to any international court or third party to resolve the dispute,” Al-Akhbar writes. 

The report claims that the MoU is not subject to the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which is meant to regulate international agreements between sovereign countries. 

The Lebanese Army’s Directorate of Orientation refused to comment on the MoU. 

However, sources close to Lebanese Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, confirmed the existence of “a draft MoU on evacuations and possible humanitarian operations.”

“The United Kingdom is working in coordination with Lebanon on the basis of joint dialogue with the Lebanese army,” they said, adding that London is not working without Lebanese knowledge and approval. 

“Discussions between the British Armed Forces and the Lebanese Army have been ongoing for a long time to coordinate joint activities, support possible evacuation work, and continue military training. What is happening is not unusual.” 

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry claimed no knowledge of the draft agreement. 

Sources familiar with the matter told Al-Akhbar that an army committee has been formed to discuss the MoU, and that the military “will not accept anything that affects Lebanese sovereignty.”

Other official sources said that any such agreement would have to be approved by the government, which has remained in a caretaker capacity for more than a year. 

Al-Akhbar suggests that the UK may be trying “to pass an agreement that constitutes military guardianship over Lebanon.” 

The report comes just days after the same outlet reported that several western military planes carrying heavy weapons have been landing at Beirut International Airport since the outbreak of the Gaza-Israel war last month. 

The deliveries reportedly come in the wake of “requests sent by foreign countries to Lebanon to allow the entry of weapons and ammunition” into the country. 

It was also reported in early November that UK forces have been undergoing training in Lebanon to prepare for potential “rescue missions” aimed at retrieving British citizens held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

At the time, UK Chief of General Staff Patrick Sanders told British MPs in the House of Commons defense committee that a British presence in Lebanon “provides an insight and influence on Lebanese decision-making and seeing things from the other side of the northern border, which clearly concerns Israel.”

In October, The Telegraph reported that the UK has been carrying out spy missions against Hezbollah from a British intelligence base in Cyprus. 

Originally published (The Cradle)

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