Russia Will Give Lebanon 10 MiG Jets as Gift

Russia will give 10 MiG-29 fighter jets to Lebanon as a gift, the Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service said Wednesday.

Agency head Mikhail Dmitriyev said Moscow and Beirut were also in talks on selling Lebanon armor for its ground forces, adding that supplies of Russian weapons there were "now possible after the situation in this nation has stabilized."

That was a reference to an 18-month crisis that ended in May with a deal to form a unity government between an anti-Syrian parliamentary majority alliance and a Damascus-backed coalition led by the military and political movement Hezbollah.

The handover of the Russian aircraft is likely to be viewed with unease by Israel. The MiG-29 is one of Russia's most advanced military jets, designed for an air superiority role. Ten of these Soviet-designed planes would not allow Lebanon to challenge Israel's air superiority directly but could threaten Israeli overflights over Lebanon and Syria.

"Russia's Defense Ministry has decided to supply 10 of its MiG-29 fighters to Lebanon as a form of military and technical assistance," Dmitriyev told reporters. The Defense Ministry would bear the cost, he said.

Earlier this month, the Air Force grounded all of the country's MiG-29 jets after one crashed in eastern Siberia, killing the pilot.

Dmitriyev's office could not be immediately reached for more details, and the Defense Ministry declined to comment.

The agreement on the fighters' supply was reached in Moscow on Tuesday during talks between Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, RIA-Novosti reported.

Dmitriyev gave no time frame for the jets' delivery to Lebanon nor did he say how much they would cost.

But he said the planes were not new and that each warplane had a different degree of wear. He said Russia would upgrade the fighters to normal export standards before delivery.