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Thursday, September 19, 2019


Al-Qaeda Brings War to Lebanon


An outsmarted and outdone al-Qaeda in Syria is trying to bring war to Hezbollah's doorstep, but it will be the battle of Qalamoun that will decide the future of Lebanon, reports Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: March 16, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Al-Qaeda | Lebanon | Saad Hariri | Walid Jumblaat | non-Maronite Christians |

Lebanon is passing through a very delicate phase as we speak and things are expected to deteriorate in days and weeks to come. However, the situation is still not as critical as to instigate a civil war. Nevertheless it is very clear that the Lebanese army is finding it difficult to control the situation and is finding itself outwitted. As of now, every faction is cautious not to push the limit towards a civil war as none of the groups has the wherewithal to come out of it unscathed.
The March 14 formation which is essentially Sunni in outlook has been supporting and protecting some elements of terrorist groups which has attacked Shia neighbourhood is also concerned that it might start to find its grip slipping away if it gives too much power or impunity to such groups.

The biggest loser in all this would be Saad Hariri himself and that is why he has started to change tune in the last week or so. He is an opportunist and he changed his stance whenever it suits him personally and lately he has started sending fillers towards Hezbollah and its partner Michael Aoun. It is expected that Hariri will finally agree to let Aoun’s party keep all important Energy and Communication ministry, which he was not initially agreeing upon. It is important for Hezbollah to let Communication ministry remain with someone it trusts, as it gives Hezbollah immense power to snoop into communication lines and to secure it own optical fibre lines from being intercepted.

Hariri also tried hard to create a wedge between Aoun’s party and Hezbollah but he could not succeed. In the changing regional scenario, almost all the non-Maronite Christian parties, as well as smaller Maronite Christian parties are now more likely to side with Hezbollah than oppose it. Consequently, Hariri will have no option but to go for a formation that includes Aoun and Hezbollah.

There has been huge pressure from Saudi Arabia on Hariri to look for an alternative that does not have Hezbollah in it but Hariri has told Saudi that it will not be possible in the present circumstances. This has also been possible because of the role of Walid Jumblaat, who has started to show signs of bonhomie towards Hezbollah once again. Jumblaat has been persuaded by the Druzes in Syria to start close coordination with Hezbollah and he is doing that. All this has left Saudi Arabia rather alone in the political arena. That is why it has been using Salafi preachers and Sheikhs to further its cause in Lebanon.

On the people’s front, the voting if it takes place in the near future will largely be on the sectarian lines with non-Maronite Christians and small portion of even Maronite Christians only siding with Hezbollah’s coalition. But that is not a possibility as long as Hariri and Hezbollah manage to form a functional government.

Hezbollah will also like to remain in power so that it manages to strike a close coordination with both Lebanese military as well as Lebanese intelligence. If it is out of power, the Sunni factions of March 14 alliance will have more say over both the institutions and this will make Hezbollah’s position precarious if not altogether unsustainable. In the last year or so there has emerged as very smooth cooperation between Hezbollah and security services and Hezbollah will like it to continue in that way.  And that is why it is also willing to compromise on a few things that would not be detrimental on its health, like leaving some key money making ministries with the other factions, but will go a long way in enhancing the cooperation with the security service.

March 14 alliance on the other hand is walking a tight rope these days. After it decided not to entertain Saudi pressure beyond a point, Saudi Arabia unilaterally gave $3Billion to Lebanese army in order to buy some muscle there and silencing head of Abdullah Azam Brigade that Saudi used in bombing Iranian embassy in Beirut.

However, how much leverage will this aid buy it among Lebanese army is not sure. Lebanese army is always wary of Hezbollah and will take no step that will pit it against Hezbollah at any cost.

Unlike the Lebanese army, Hezbollah has a very different construction and training and that has started to emerge in the recent conflict. Although there has been several security breaches leading to four bomb blasts, and that such blasts will continue to happen in the future, what is not known that it has managed to avert at least two dozen similar blasts because of its intelligence input and operations. It has already barricaded the entire Southern neighbourhood of Beirut where most of the Shias live and checkpoints are already in place. Every car entering and leaving the area is thoroughly searched including those belonging to its members.

There are many groups that are responsible for these attacks including Saudi supported groups closer to Jabhat al-Nusra and those independent of Saudi influence and closer to Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham (ISIS). Apart from that, other groups active throughout last two decades in Tripoli, Sidon and other areas are also active. There is some level of coordination between these groups and Jabhat al Nusra. The leader of non-Jabhat al-Nusra faction is preacher Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari of Tripoli.

The idea is very simple. They want to tie Hezbollah down in Lebanon in order to make them withdraw their fighters from Syria. They have an idea that Hezbollah will not be able to open two fronts simultaneously. But sources close to Hezbollah say that Hezbollah is determined to continue fighting in Syria and it will not withdraw. It had increased its recruitment and training last year fearing this situation so there is a level of preparedness for this contingency. It has recruited and trained additional 1200 fighters last year alone and thus it has the wherewithal to fight at the multiple fronts now.

The battle of Qalamoun will decide pretty much which way Lebanon will move in days and weeks to come. Watch this space.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017