Lebanon is planning to seek military assistance from brotherly and friendly states in its war against terrorism, following last week’s outbreak of fighting between the Army and Islamist militants in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal, ministerial sources said Tuesday.
The Cabinet, which held a special session Monday to cope with the fast-moving and dramatic security developments in Arsal near the border with Syria, threw its weight behind the Army’s ongoing battle against militants, many of whom belong to Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Following the Cabinet meeting, a ministerial source close to Prime Minister Tammam Salam said the government was dealing with the Arsal fighting, which has left 16 soldiers and more than 50 militants dead in four days, at both the political and military levels.
At the military level, the government has given the Lebanese Army and other security forces a free hand in battling the militants entrenched in Arsal. At the political level, while the government has staunchly rejected negotiations with terrorists, it has decided to approach Arab and foreign countries seeking military assistance for the Army in its battle against the militants, the source said.
“Following its extraordinary session Monday, the Cabinet has decided to begin foreign and diplomatic moves, particularly with brotherly and friendly countries, to brief them on the gravity of the situation [in Arsal] and demand that the Lebanese Army be quickly supplied with the needed arms and ammunition, especially from France in line with the Saudi grant,” the source told The Daily Star.
Saudi Arabia last year granted the Lebanese Army $3 billion in military equipment to be bought from France.
According to the source, the government plans to launch “quick moves with the Arab League on the basis of a joint Arab action to place brotherly countries before their responsibilities, especially since a large part of the terrorists are citizens from brotherly countries.”
“This matter requires that [inter-Arab] cooperation and coordination be energized to ward off dangers threatening Lebanon,” the source said.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will be tasked with making some of these contacts.
The source underlined the need for taking precautionary measures concerning the presence of more than 1 million Syrian refugees spread in areas across Lebanon following calls for organizing this presence by building camps for the refugees.
The building of refugee camps will help authorities to differentiate between ordinary civilians and terrorists who are ready to tamper with the country’s security and stability whenever they have a chance, the source said.
In tandem with Lebanon’s demand for military assistance, there are indications about “preparations to forge an international coalition to fight all forms of terrorism, especially its extremist religious part,” a senior Lebanese official said.
The official, who maintains constant contacts with Western ambassadors based in Lebanon, cited three indications in this respect:
First, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz’s speech last week which condemned Islamist extremists and urged Arab countries to confront extremist ideologies.
Second, the declaration by the U.S. that what is happening in Syria and Iraq is threatening global national security, that many militant gunmen who are fighting in Syria and Iraq carry American and European nationalities and that those gunmen will pose a danger when they return to their home countries.
Perhaps the best expression was made by Anne Patterson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, in her testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate when she said that the prevention of “safe and permanent havens” for terrorists is one of the U.S.’ top priorities in Syria.
She added that the U.S. was working now with its partners and friends to better organize themselves to meet growing challenges posed by violent militants in Syria and the flow of those fighters from outside Syria.
The third indication about preparations for an anti-terror global coalition, the Lebanese official said, was the British government’s revelation of intelligence reports indicating that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were preparing to carry out terrorist attacks against Queen Elizabeth II and Buckingham Palace.
“In light of these indications, it is believed that an international anti-terror coalition will begin by preparing for a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis. This settlement will be based on tasking the Iraqi political leadership represented by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Syrian leadership represented by President Bashar Assad to entirely eliminate all dens of extremist terrorism in both countries,” the official said.
“Therefore, Lebanon will be at the crux of the Syrian settlement and part of the international coalition to face terrorism,” the source added.