With difficulties facing the convening of the Higher Defense Council in the absence of a president, officials should act to form “a ministerial crisis cell” to cope with the fallout of military advances in Iraq by extremists from the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a ministerial source said Monday.
The proposed group should be headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam and include the interior, defense, foreign affairs, finance, justice, social affairs and information ministers, the source told The Daily Star.
The source voiced fears that the parties that stood to benefit from the deteriorationof security in Lebanon, namely “dormant cells” of militants, might act to deal “a severe blow” to Lebanese stability as a reaction to ISIS’ expansion into Iraq.
These fears have prompted officials to place Lebanese military and security forces on high alert in order to face spillover from violence in Iraq, the source said. He added that the Lebanese Army had launched a military operation to clear some border areas with Syria of any fighters from ISIS, the Nusra Front and other Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the area.
The spiraling Sunni-Shiite tensions in more than one area of the volatile Middle East and attempts by some well-known regional players to benefit from them have raised fears that Lebanon may become involved in the game of “iron and fire,” the source said.
“The situation requires political and security alertness to face the schemes of this kind,” the source added.
The proposed ministerial committee should focus on the security situation in light of the upheavals sweeping the region, the source said.
The source added that the committee should draw up a detailed plan to confront the proliferation of fundamentalist groups in Lebanese territory and insulate the country from regional developments, especially as certain parties that stand to benefit from the lack of a president and the disruption of Parliament and the Cabinet’s work could try to undermine stability in Lebanon if given the opportunity.
Amid fears of destabilization at the beginning of summer, Western security sources voiced concerns during meetings held recently with Lebanese officials that the country might become an “active arena” for militants.
A number of the group’s members have entered the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near the southern city of Sidon in recent days and have stayed there, the sources said.
They added that ISIS has worked out a plan to expand its presence outside Syria and Iraq and set up “a logistical backyard” to back up its movements, contacts and transfers in those countries.
ISIS is expected to increase its statements about Lebanon in the next few days, according to the same sources.