Crotales in the Mist

Or the Failure for Lebanon to have a decent air defense system

A what if idea of how a Lebanese Air Force Crotale would have looked today

What happened exactly in the early 70s in Lebanon?

All goes back to the middle of the 60s when the Lebanese army High command was seeking for a perfect air defense system for its Air Force. Thus in 1968 a deal were made between the French company Thomson-CSF/Matra and Lebanon concerning the purchase of Crotale batteries enough to cover and protect the Lebanese air bases and other sensitive targets in those times such as the Karaoun dam and the major electrical plant near Sidon.

The sale was worth about $13 million (more than $100 million by today’s standards) and Lebanon was to pay $2,15 million  for each missile battery. The deal was later cancelled officially after complaints was made that Thomson-CSF/Matra was not meeting its commitments. A friendly agreement was reached under which Lebanon was to pay nearly $2 million in cancellation charges.

In fact in 1971 a Lebanese parliamentary committee asked the Government to open an inquiry about the Crotale deal and charged former officials connected with the deal of irregularities.  The committee’s report says that the contract was concluded by General Emile Bustani, by the time Commander- in-Chief, and had not been referred to the offices concerned at the Defense Ministry. The report stated also that a company representative reported to have told a Lebanese officer that a battery in fact only cost $1,2 million. The report urged then the Government to start an investigation under the law on the illegal origin of wealth. The committee asked whether the Crotale deal was concluded to supply the army with weapons or for material benefit.  General Bustani concluded the deal, alleged the report, although there was no allocation for it, and burdened the Treasury with payment of the full price although the law provided for only a quarter of the price to be paid.

According to newspapers back in January 1974, the then former army chief, Major General Bustani was fined $3,2 million and sentenced in absentia to six years in prison. A special state court also sentenced his wife to prison and fined her $423,000 after finding them guilty of fraud. When the general first was charged one year before with fraud, he and his wife sought refuge in a monastery, then fled to Syria and asylum. Two other army officers who fled with Bustani also drew prison terms in absentia and heavy fines.

Some reports says that two batteries of Crotale have been delivered to the Lebanese Army in 1971 but not installed. They stay a few months before being returned to France. Nothing till now like a photo or document can confirm or infirm the veracity of such reports.

In 1971, the Lebanese Government released a complete list of new arms purchases, partly as a reply to criticism. A five-year defense plan was announced with a budget of $70 million. This plan included Soviet made artillery, American made rifles, Agusta built helicopters and Alouettes and French AMX-13 tanks. Critics have said that the weapons are outdated and some of them defective, but the Ministry of Defense has denied this, saying that Lebanon’s policy was one of defense, not offence, and that the weapons had been chosen accordingly.

The original photo of a French Air Force Crotale during Base 118 open days

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