By Ghassan Imam
August 3, 2017
Hezbollah failed to resolve its battle with the remnants of the Nusra Front in Arsal. The state intervened to save Hezbollah. General Abbas Ibrahim, the director of the official “public security “ apparatus, managed to enter into a fragile deal with the “Fatah al-Sham Front “, one of the armed factions of al-Nusra, to stop the fighting.
Thanks to the state, the credibility of Major General Abbas is stronger than the credibility of Hezbollah. He must now complete the deal by persuading the Nusra factions to emigrate to Idlib in northwestern Syria, which has become a haven for both extremist and moderate religious factions.
But Hezbollah must first drink from the cup of defeat until the end. They must plead Bashar to allow the remnants of the Nusra front to travel to Idlib. They then have to allow the Lebanese army to liquidate the border enclave occupied by ISIS in Ras Baalbek.
Can the army fight till the end against ISIS? Or should Major General Abbas mediate to stop the battles and negotiate with the ISIS elements to leave. But to where? There is no longer any land for the Islamic state. ISIS must accept two bitter options: to surrender, or to fight to death.
Why is the war waged by Hezbollah and the army so difficult to resolve? The reason is that the Lebanese / Syrian border is not clearly drawn. There are those who say that Arsal and Baalbek are Syrian territory. The other reason is the lack of support of the Muslim / Christian public for the Hezbollah wars. What benefit does Lebanon gain from replacing the Iranian mercenaries with the remnants of the ISIS and al-Qaeda on the Syrian / Lebanese borders?
The third reason is that the Lebanese army is in line with Hezbollah. The military turned a blind eye to Iran’s involvement in the Syrian war and its arming of Hezbollah with missiles and heavy weapons, so that it became better equipped than the “homeland army”. And then there is the question of the dominance of the Hezbollah state over the institutions of the “legitimate state. “ This domination reached Sidon and West Beirut (a Sunni area), which was invaded by Hezbollah nine years ago.
“It is no longer a secret that today there are Lebanese Sunni leaders who are impatient and waiting for their time as prime minister”
There is more than one proof to this heinous domination. The Hezbollah war was accompanied by a racist campaign against the Syrian refugees. Indeed, Hezbollah invaded their camps near Arsal. Four to ten of those arrested were tortured and died.
General Abbas pleaded for the release of the prisoners of Hezbollah who were captured by the Nusra Front while the fate of the soldiers of the Lebanese army remains unknown: Were they killed or wounded by Hezbollah’s friendly fire? Did Nusra execute them in retaliation against Hezbollah? Or did they escape and returned to their families secretly?
The political and popular resentment against Hezbollah does not mean that the Lebanese are biased or sympathetic to the intransigent organizations infiltrating Lebanese territory. These organizations have lost the pretexts of their existence since the time they brutally treated Arab civilians in Syria and Iraq. Its narrow interpretation of religion and its strict application of the provisions of the Sharia were unacceptable to other Islamic sects and doctrines.
Perhaps it would have been better to postpone the visit of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Washington. He said he was going to defend the “legitimate institutions” of the Lebanese state, including the military. However, his visit coincided with Hezbollah’s new war inside Lebanon. The visit was then interpreted by DC chambers as defending Hezbollah and its dominance over the Lebanese state.
President Donald Trump postponed meeting Hariri until the fifth day of his visit. Then, and during the joint press conference, Trump launched a massive hostile campaign against Iran and Hezbollah, describing the latter as a threat to the stability and security in the region.
Lebanese diplomacy had to prepare for Hariri’s visit to Washington and the bumps he might face in there. The Trump administration and the Congressional committees of US military reduced its support to the Lebanese army at a rate of 82 percent and accused inner parties of leaking US weapons to Hezbollah. Hezbollah strengthened its dominance over Lebanon and its war with Bashar against Syrian civilians.
The Lebanese army strongly denies these accusations. Despite its growing security credibility among the Lebanese in general, it cannot deny protecting the Hezbollah hordes and securing its access to the Syrian border. While a Sunni gunman with a canister or a pistol is being arrested, the army cannot confiscate 55,000 missiles that Iran has stacked into the folds of Hezbollah and the dangerous ammunition depots in densely populated Shi’ite areas.
The circumstances of the Lebanese visit to the US capital were immediately reflected on the tense political and popular situation in Lebanon. Hezbollah was surprised by Hariri’s campaign against them, as they are his partners in the government he heads.
Concessions to Hezbollah
While other currents in the Islamic and Christian public considered that Hariri made concessions to Hezbollah and its allies represented by the Free Patriotic Movement led by President Michel Aoun and run by his son-in-law, the Foreign Minister and the talented Nabih Berri, the chronic president of the House of Representatives, and the first ally of Bashar’s regime in Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the stance of Sunni politicians was clearer and stronger than the position of the public view. Successive generations of Sunni leaders have always been waiting for any moment of weakness and confusion displayed by their colleague, the prime minister, to move against him in the hope of replacing him.
Therefore, the Saudi government’s wise position in supporting the prime minister was to strengthen the executive powers and responsibilities of the Lebanese Council of Ministers, in order to preserve the balance between the three main sects (the Maronites, Sunnis and Shiites), and to secure the stability of the “legitimate state “ in the face of the riots of the “smaller ones”.
It is no longer a secret that today there are Lebanese Sunni leaders who are impatient and waiting for their time as prime minister. Nevertheless, they do not directly oppose Saad Hariri. These leaders are eager to prove their worth and their efficiency in governance in order to maintain the stability of Lebanon.
I can now name the most recurrent potential candidates for the post of prime minister: Retired Major General Ashraf Rifi, former director of the Internal Security Forces, whose operations department exposed several “conspiracies” against Lebanon’s security.
He fought Israeli espionage rings and alerted the Syrian forces and Hezbollah to Israeli infiltrations. There is also Abdul Rahim Murad and of course I cannot neglect to mention the billionaire Najib Miqati, who knows better than Hariri how the winds of change are coming, those coming from the Gulf or across the border with Al Assad’s Syria.