Lebanese Army

Lebanon’s New Presidential Favorite?

Empty frames (presidential vacuum)

Visual vacuum: Portraits of ex-Lebanese President Michel Sleiman at state-run facilities replaced with empty frames. (Image source: The Daily Star, Mohamad Azakir)

Other than the fact that we still don’t have a president and that the parliamentary elections are in a month, Lebanon had two very busy weeks. Let’s take a look at some of these stories.

28/09/2014 – Army Repels Jihadist Infiltration Attempt as Gunmen Try to Spread Chaos in Lebanon (Naharnet)

The Lebanese army clashed with jihadists trying to infiltrate Lebanese territories at dawn Monday, leaving many dead and injured among their ranks, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) reported.

The infiltration attempt was made on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal, which last month witnessed bloody clashes between the army and militants from al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group.

28/09/2014 – Hariri: Syrian National Coalition Complaint on Army’s Arsal Raid Should’ve Mentioned Captive Troops (Naharnet)

Head of the Mustaqbal Movement MP Saad Hariri criticized on Sunday the Syrian National Coalition’s complaint to the United Nations Security Council over the Lebanese army’s treatment of Syrian refugees in the northeastern region of Arsal, deeming it as a “misstep” and saying that it disregards the ties between the Lebanese and Syrian people.

He said in a statement: “The Syrian National Coalition has the right to defend the refugees’ humanitarian rights … but the interests of the refugees and Syrian revolt also requires them to raise their voice and demand the release of the Lebanese soldiers and policemen abducted by Islamists in August.”

29/09/2014 – Saudi Arabia asks for clarification on weapons deal for Army (The Daily Star)

“For reasons that I cannot explain today, the Saudis have put conditions on the destinations of the arms,” Lebranchu said. When pressed what she meant by “destinations,” Lebranchu said that the already complex file would only be further complicated if she discussed the details publicly.

Moreover, the Saudis had not registered their specific concerns regarding the arms deal with the French by Friday evening as Lebranchu concluded her trip to Lebanon.

“If the Saudis have a problem [with the accord] … it would be helpful if they identified it quickly so that we could respond,” Lebranchu said. “We need to get this file moving.”

She was confident that the Saudis would express their precise concerns in the near future.

30/09/2014 – Iran to donate military equipment to Lebanese Army (The Daily Star)

Iran will donate military equipment to the Lebanese Army, a visiting Iranian official said Tuesday after talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

“Given the role Lebanon is playing in fighting extremist takfiri terrorism in some border regions, Iran has decided to donate military equipment to the Lebanese Army, as a token of love and appreciation for Lebanon and its brave Army,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran.


01/10/2014 – Jumblat Calls for Exchange between Arsal Captives, Roumieh Prisoners to End Abduction Ordeal (Naharnet)

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat called on Wednesday for a swift exchange between the Arsal captives and Roumieh prison Islamist inmates, holding former Internal Security Forces personnel responsible for the “self-rule” at the facility.

“The government and crisis cell should follow up any exchange process with the kidnappers,” Jumblat said in an interview with An Nahar newspaper.

He denied any previous knowledge of the conditions set by the jihadists, who kidnapped a batch of soldiers after withdrawing from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August.

Note: Jumblatt had previously refused the idea of an exchange deal on the 7th of  September.

05/01/2014 – Lebanon to get Russian helicopters, air defense (The Daily Star)

“There are talks on buying Russian arms and special equipment by Lebanon,” the World Tribune quoted Machnouk as saying during his visit to Moscow in late September to discuss weapons supplies to Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces.

He said a delegation from the army would visit Moscow later this month to discuss proposals.

Any deal would most likely be financed by the $1 billion Saudi donation that was announced by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in August.

Political sources last month told the The Daily Star that Hariri was working to revive 2010 arms negotiations with Moscow. The Russian ambassador confirmed at the time that talks were taking place without going into detail.

08/10/2014 – Lebanese Army receives new US arms delivery (The Daily Star)

he United States delivered a new batch of aid to the Lebanese Army Wednesday as part of Washington’s efforts to bolster the military’s capabilities to confront Syrian border violence.

The National News Agency reported that senior Army officers were handed ammunition at Beirut’s International Airport in the presence of representatives from U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Lebanon.

The Army has received several deliveries of U.S. military equipment, including arms and ammunitions, in the past weeks under the U.S. military assistance program.

08/10/2014 – France says $3 billion Lebanon arms deal to go ahead (Reuters)

“All the work is done and the President (Francois Hollande) indicated yesterday to Mr (Saad) al-Hariri that the conditions to fulfil the contract had been met,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.

“This is a necessity. The Lebanese army is the last barrier that exists against the security threats this country faces.”

08/10/2014 – Envoy: Iran’s Military Gift to Lebanon Ready for Delivery (Fars News Agency)

thali made the remarks after a meeting with Lebanese Democratic Party Leader Talal Arslan, where he expressed the hope that the gift would be sent to the Lebanese army through legal procedures in the Muslim Arab state, the Egyptian al-Bawaba news reported.

The envoy did not reveal details or the nature of the aid, but said the gift would help Lebanon meet all its Army needs  in its current war on terrorism.

Iran hopes the weapons can support Lebanon in its fight against the terrorist groups, he reiterated.

Meet Lebanon’s Top Presidential Candidate

I think that I’ve made my point by now. In less than 10 days, every possible country in the world suddenly volunteered to arm the Lebanese army. Faisal Kassem’s media campaign backfired, and by the end of this week, Jean Kahwaji had become Lebanon’s man of the month. At the same time, the Lebanese army was also getting credit for its achievement in keeping a relative peace in the Bekaa and for taking control of the situation. The credit came from everyone, except Berri. Although the speaker had earlier expressed his “frustration and defended the army against critics” (30/09), on the third of October the speaker indirectly attacked the army’s command by blaming the army for the delay regarding the controversial wage hike draft law. The speaker knew what he was doing. The Lebanese army was getting stronger and stronger in the context of a presidential vacancy. On one hand, the world’s greater powers are (probably) competing to gain the sympathy of the LAF leader via the arms deals, and on the other hand,  most of the M14 forces are endorsing Kawhaji’s moves. Jumblatt’s endorsement of the exchange deal with the Arsal militants made M8’s initial veto on the issue meaningless. Kahwaji, who is traditionally seen by the Lebanese media as being sympathetic to the March 8 Alliance (and particularly Hezbollah), was becoming at the same time stronger and more popular among M14 (proof: Kahwaji headed to Washington, Riyadh to discuss support for Lebanese army). That makes it a lot easier for him to become Lebanon’s next president,  and a lot harder for Berri to enforce some of his demands in a possible deal on Kahwaji’s candidacy. After all, if everyone agrees on Kahwaji, Berri becomes as influential as Talal Arslan.

Berri’s Maneuver

This is probably why Berri made two very interesting moves this week: In the first one, the parliament speaker attacked the army and blamed it for freezing the wage hike efforts (and hence tried to make Kahwaji  unpopular). In the second one, he declared that he was going to vote against the elections in case the Future Movement takes the decision to boycott the polls. And since the FM already took that decision, it means that Nabih Berri will vote against the elections. Which also means that:

1) There’s now at least more than 65 MPs against the elections.

2) The speaker can still enforce whatever terms he wants regarding the presidential elections by effectively deciding the outcome of the extension law vote since he – as it seems – is now in control of the swing votes in the parliament (regarding the Extension/ Temdid law) and can change his decision at any time (He just proved to everyone that he is unpredictable).

The Lebanese Forces In Denial (Again)

58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

That was the situation in September. But since Berri decided that he was going to boycott the elections after all, the majority in the parliament is now against elections – regardless of what the LF think. The Lebanese Forces hence lost their bargaining chip which might explain their recent aggressive stances and their very weird decision to sue regular citizens (If we were a normal country, such an irresponsible decision, especially in the context of an extension of the parliament’s term would have led to a revolution. Emphasis on normal.)

So in other words, this week Future Movement showed Berri that they were unpredictable and could still bypass any of his vetoes regarding the presidential elections by endorsing M8’s “hidden candidate”. And Berri responded by reminding them that he too is unpredictable and that no matter what happens, he still holds the keys to the Lebanese parliament and could postpone for them the elections in case they wanted to. And in the process, the Lebanese Forces discovered that they were yet again left alone with no real power.

 141 days since the 25th of May. 36 days till the 16th of November.

Beyond The Battle Of Saida


Ahmad Al-Assir On A Bicycle

Ahmad Al-Assir was living the Lebanese Dream. He headed a political and religious movement, with hundreds of followers behind his back. He used to spend most of his time with the (In)famous Fadel Shaker. Even if it wasn’t in one day *gasp*, he went Skiing and didn’t mind enjoying the sun at the beach. He shared ice-cream with the Kids, rode bicycles, made a tour around Lebanon from Arsal to Tripoli, and – why not – visited Faraya.

Meet Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assir, Lebanon’s rising controversial cleric, who also had armed disciples   patrolling with freedom in the streets of Abra. He called for Jihad, fought in Syria, warned Hezbollah, attacked the army, before finally running away from the mosque he was preaching from (and that was apparently closer to a military complex than to a praying place).

It Doesn’t Make Sense

Why. Just, why. Ahmad Al-Assir gave Hezbollah a deadline till Monday, but attacked the army on Sunday. Why would a rising Salafi cleric commit political suicide is a question that doesn’t have an answer and will probably never have. Maybe with time things will get clearer, but Ahmad Al-Assir knew that attacking the army would’ve been the end of his career. It was simply the wrong decision, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

A Bad Idea.  You don’t attack the army when you don’t have people inside it who can calm things down. You don’t attack the army when there’s a 60000 men difference. And you don’t attack an army with no available political support. Had he attacked Hezbollah members, he would’ve got through with it using the alibi of avoiding the Sunni-Shia strife. But Al-Assir insisted on maximizing his enemies, for no relevant reason. 

A Bad Timing. There can’t be any worse moment. The commander-in-chief of the army wants to prove himself few months before the presidential elections, and the politicians are busy forming a consensual government after the quasi-unanimous extension of the parliament. In other terms, it’s the political honeymoon season in Lebanon: An attack on one side turns the entire country against you. And Al-Assir chose the easiest target that the Lebanese might unanimously support: The army.

A Bad Place. Saida isn’t exactly a heaven for Al-Assir. It’s a lot smaller than Tripoli and Beirut, was traditionally left-leaning, is surrounded by one of Lebanon’s biggest Shia regions, and has several Christian villages to its east. Al-Assir would’ve probably lasted more than two days in Tripoli, but in Saida, it was impossible for him to hold his headquarters for more than a couple of hours.

It Never Made Sense

Something was weird from the beginning. Ahmad Al-Assir is the grandson of Yussef Al-Assir, one of the few (if not the only) Muslim clerics that worked with the Protestant missionaries and translated the Bible to Arabic in the Nineteenth Century. His father was a folk singer, and if it’s not awkward enough, his mother is not even a Sunni, but a Shia. Why would anyone with such a background belong to – not mention lead, or even found – a Salafi group is a mystery.

Is It Non-Sense?

Not at all. Hariri used Al-Assir to make Mikati look as an unpopular and illegitimate Prime Minister among Sunnis. Mikati saw in Al-Assir a chance to start filling the Sunni void left by Hariri and piss him off. Hezbollah made use of the Salafi boogeyman to make the Shias feel safer within the party. For Berri and Jumblatt, he was one of the people responsible of the bad security situation, and whose actions gave an alibi to the extension of the parliament’s terms. For Michel Aoun, he was the takfiri that should make the Christians forget about the Wilayet Al-Faqih propaganda of 2009 and think instead of a scary Dawlat Al-Khilafa. For the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb, he was an annoyance to Hezbollah, and that was enough for them.

A force d’être manipulé, on devient manipulateur. Assir kept on growing and growing and growing, until in a moment of complete political stupidity – when nobody needed him – he committed his mistake. Now that the current parliament is staying, that Jumblatt will still be the kingmaker and Berri will still be the speaker there is no need anymore for the annoying Assir – that is few Kilometers away from the Chouf and the South – to create instability. For Aoun, the Salafiphobia doesn’t lead anywhere with no elections. No need to fill any Sunni void anymore with Salam as a PM-Designate, and it is wiser for Mikati and Hariri to politically end any other possible rising Sunni. Hezbollah had enough with him, and the Lebanese Forces started viewing him as an ideological threat. It was only a matter of time before Al-Assir got hated by everyone: They gave him – via the media – the illusion that he was strong enough and he willingly created his own trap and fell into it.

And Now What?

The parliament’s extension was left unnoticed with Saida’s violence. The commander of the army is now a potential candidate to the presidency. The rumor about Kahwagi’s threat to the president of resigning less than 9 Months (the constitutional deadline is 6 months) before the elections raises suspicions. So does the sudden urge to extend the mandate of Kahwagi on the head of the army that makes him not eligible to run and embarrasses him in case he would want to resign and become a candidate. You would hear a unpreceded unanimous support to the army. But beware, for a silent presidential electoral battle between three Generals (Aoun, Sleiman, Kahwaji) is starting.

The battle of Saida is over. The Battle for Baabda has just begun.

Is Lebanon Turning Into A Military State?

Image from 2011 (Associated Press)

Image from 2011 (Associated Press)

There were days when the director of the General Security wasn’t an officer. There were days when even the presence of a General as a democratically elected president would be criticized. These days are over.

For Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman is a General. His predecessor Emile Lahoud was also a General. The interior minister Marwan Charbel is a General. The head of one of the biggest parliamentary blocs, Michel Aoun, is a General. The new interior minister is likely to be a General. A month ago, a General, Ashraf Rifi, the former head of the ISF, was on the verge of being a Prime Minister-Designate

When Tammam Salam was tasked to form a government, Foreign Policy had a great article on how the same families in Lebanon get to stay in power democratically while the rule of families is being toppled everywhere else in the Arab World. The Frangiehs, the Jumblatts, the Hariris, the Gemayels are few examples. Even when you think it’s not present, you quickly realize that Gebran Bassil is Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, that Marwan Hamade is Gebran Tueni’s uncle, and that  Setrida Geagea is Samir Geagea’s wife

Though Lebanese tend to forget that quickly, political inheritance is not the only thing we have in common with the neighboring Arab countries. We also have ruling generals. True, the Arab spring was made to prevent Jamal Mubarak and Seif El Islam Gaddafi of inheriting power, but it was also  Colonel Gaddafi and General Mubarak that were the targets. In the same way the Lebanese don’t view the election of the same families to the parliament as a wrong matter, they don’t view the presence of Generals in power as a bad thing.

It is also not possible to elect judges, Grade One civil servants, or their equivalents in all public institutions to the Presidency during their term or office or within two years following the date of their resignation and their effective cessation of service, or following retirement.

Article 49 in the constitution prohibits the commander-in-chief of the army of being a president (unless he’s elected two years after he resigns) for a reason. However the constitution was amended several times in Lebanon’s history to let Grade One civil servants serve as Presidents.

The problem of amending the constitution and letting a commander-in-chief of the army be a president is that one day, like all the countries in the world, we might have a coup – as unlikely as it might sound – and the General can pressure the members of the parliament to amend the constitution and elect him, making his rule look legitimate. If the amendment hadn’t been done several times before, the move would have made him an illegitimate ruler. But now that it’s done, each time he gets criticized for being elected under a constitutional amendment, his response would be: “It was done before. Are you suggesting that Fouad Chehab and Michel Suleiman were illegitimate rulers? They were democratically elected by the parliament, under a constitutional amendment. And you’re telling me that there’s an opposition? Do I need to remind you that the Lebanese Forces did not vote for Suleiman  in 2008 and that Raymond Edde was a presidential candidate in 1958?”

But for a coup to succeed in Lebanon, with all the sectarianism and without splitting the army in two armies (or ten, or twenty), it would likely take three centuries. So the main problem of having generals in power isn’t primarily because of a possible coup, but rather because of the nature of the Lebanese system. I’ll make it clearer.

A and B are both represented in the parliament. A and B elect the president, have a say in everything else and can even veto some positions. A and B also have armed wings. On one sunny summer day, A and B clash. The army receives orders to stop the fighting between A and B. There are three possible scenarios:

1) If the officer slightly sides with A, he might get a favor from A. If he sides with B, he might get favors from B.

2) If he stands in the middle, stops the fighting, without actually hunting the armed men down, he gets praised by A and B.

3) If he stands in the middle, stops the fighting and hunts every armed man down, he gets vetoed by A and B.

When Fouad Chehab refused to follow Camille Chamoun’s orders to fight the revolution in 1958, it was scenario 2. When Michel Suleiman did not stick to the orders of the government on banning protests on the 14th of March 2005, it was scenario 2. Emile Lahoud, Michel Aoun and Ashraf Rifi are other examples of the scenario 1 (Who needs scenario 2 when – even if for a while – there’s an A that’s stronger than B?)

That’s why generals become politicians in Lebanon. They take sides, or stand in the middle, depending on the context. But do not be fooled, for there are two types of men standing in the middle: The man who stands between A and B, and the man who stands against A and B (While following the orders of course, that are to stop A and B from fighting)

The “Amn Bel Taradi – الامن بالتراضي”, or consensual security, the fact of stopping the fighting between A and B without actually disarming A and B and punishing them for the instability they are causing, is mainly due to the fact of having officers in power. As you can see, Scenario 3 is missing,  not because it’s too good to be true, but because officers in Lebanon made it to top posts due to the scenarios 1 and 2. So why would an officer risk  his career by going for scenario 3 while he can get easily rewarded and have all the glory he wants via scenarios 1 and 2? Even when he has the political approval from everyone to go for scenario 3, Scenario 2 for an officer stays the preferred scenario, because it doesn’t get him too much problems. The battles between Jabal Mohsen and Bab El Tabbaneh are a perfect example.

When A and B know that there will not be a response from the army, it’s always an escalation of fighting that follows. Scenario 2 usually goes like that:

1) stop a fight by standing in the middle.

2) But the fighting resumes, and it’s a more brutal battle, because the fighters know there is no punishment.

3) Stand in the middle again and stop the bigger fight.

4) Repeat step 2 and 3 several times. Eventually, it’ll be too big to control and it will be more than a small local battle.

It’s not the fault of the army, and  I’m not saying the work some officers are doing in power is bad. Fouad Chehab delayed the civil war 17 years, and Michel Suleiman is probably doing the same thing. But when Generals are democratically given power, it’s for the purpose of keeping things under control. However what happens next is an instability due to the scenario 2 – الامن بالتراضي – that will eventually lead to a total loss of control.

In a nutshell, by bringing neutral generals to power, you think you are doing good, but the scenario 2 – and its consequence, consensual security – will begin, and in order to solve it, you bring more neutral generals to power making things even worse.

Is 1.6 Billion Enough To Equip The Lebanese Army?

The government is planning to equip the army with 1.6 Billion $ that will be paid over five years. 1.6 Billion $ looks like a big number. Divide this number on 60000, then divide it on five. You’ll get a bit more than 5333 $/soldier/Year, or 445$/Soldier/Month. That’s not a big number anymore.

Let’s start with the basics. A well-equipped soldier needs a good protecting uniform. He needs  good weapons, and he needs enough ammunitions. He has a salary. He needs to eat, too.  Is 445$ per month enough to give a soldier what he needs? (more…)