The military is optimistic about the future of the country and its institutional well-being, a senior Lebanese Army official told The Daily Star this week.
“In light of regional turmoil, I can say that Lebanon is doing better compared to other countries in the region,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’re doing even better than Egypt.”
According to the official, the widespread condemnation that follows each terrorist act was “a healthy sign.”
“Had civil or sectarian clashes broken out after those bombings, then I can assure you that the country would have been in serious trouble,” he said. “But so far, so good. Everything is under control.”
The official revealed that the military was carrying out arrests and had confiscated several vehicles across the country, though it was not necessarily publicizing these breakthroughs.
“Just this week we confiscated two stolen cars in Beirut’s southern suburbs,” he said.
He added that the “shrinking size” of the bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs, for example, signified that strict measures adopted by security forces were paying off.
He said that the Army’s choice to not publicize its achievements in uncovering terrorist groups and rigged cars was “meant to not alarm the Lebanese and because we have a firm belief that we shouldn’t be bragging about doing our duty.”
The official, however, admitted that significant threats and challenges for the Army were lurking just ahead. Incitement against the military – carried out by politicians and extremist religious leaders – and attempts to create pockets of tension, in order to divert the military from carrying out its duties, figure among the most pressing challenges, the source said.
In June 2013, the Army was involved in a battle with militants led by Salafist firebrand Sheikh Ahmad Assir in Sidon; clashes which cost the military at least 17 lives and, to a limited extent, created friction with some of the southern city’s residents.
The Army has also been clashing with jihadists based in the impoverished Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood of Tripoli. And recently hostility toward the military in the West Bekaa village of Kamed al-Loz has run high following the killing of Mazen Abu Abbas, a mobile phone shop owner, during a raid to arrest wanted terrorist Majid al-Majid, who was receiving treatment there.
While the Army insists that Abu Abbas was involved in terrorist activities, Kamed al-Loz’s residents say they are being punished for helping Syrian refugees.
“We will not back down. Such rhetoric and hate spread against the Army by some politicians and preachers only benefits the terrorists,” the Army source said. “But these politicians and preachers are oblivious to the fact that if terrorism prevails, they will be the first ones to suffer from the consequences.”
The official also acknowledged that maintaining law and order was more difficult in the Bekaa Valley than North Lebanon, due to the governorate’s substantial size and its highly porous border with neighboring Syria.
The official maintained a positive outlook toward the situation in Tripoli, where clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad have tainted the city since the outbreak of violence in Syria almost three years ago.
“In Tripoli too there is no need to worry,” he said.
“We count on the fact that troublemakers are a minority confined to a street or two in the city and they definitely don’t enjoy the support of the rest of the population,” he added.
As for talk that the Army could be divided, with Sunni officers defecting if the institution pursues its war on terror, the official declared such a scenario “baseless.”
“Some individuals who accept bribery might defect, but I totally rule out mass defections. Not within the Lebanese Army,” he said. “Anyhow, the few who will choose to leave will be viewed as traitors who sided with terrorists against their country.”
In the meantime, the Army is currently holding a series of meetings with French officials to discuss an aid package in light of Saudi Arabia’s recent grant to Lebanon. Late last year, Saudi Arabia offered Lebanon $3 billion in military equipment to be bought from France.
Asked about the nature of the equipment, the official said it was up to the donors to decide. “But we have shortages in many areas and we will accept all aid,” he added.