The kidnapping of two Turkish pilots is yet more proof, as if it were needed, that the Lebanese government and national security forces have no real power in this country to enforce the rule of law.
Although the act was done in the dead of night, it occurred just a kilometer from Lebanon’s international airport and less than 200 meters from an Army checkpoint. Clearly, the perpetrators were not exactly worried about being caught.
Such an act taints the reputation of the entire country. Without a safe airport that tourists, businessmen and pilots alike can come through without fearing for their life, Lebanon’s economy and lifeline to the rest of the world will dry up in a matter of months. Kidnappings of airline staff will not escape the attention of bodies such as the International Air Transport Association, and the damage done by official warnings about Lebanon’s only airport will be hard to undo. Even an unofficial boycott by carriers – for example, from the Gulf – involved in the regional conflict would deal a heavy blow to our already weakened country.
Sadly, there is little hope for recourse to justice through the official channels. For a long time now, the Interior Ministry and Internal Security Forces have striven to apply security by consensus – i.e. through striking deals. In a country unofficially split into dozens of semiautonomously policed areas, Lebanese security institutions are all too aware of their own limitations in cases such as these.
No policemen or ISF personnel will be venturing uninvited into the Hezbollah-controlled areas where the two pilots are most probably now held. Whether they are in the Bekaa Valley, the south, or Beirut’s southern suburbs, the national security apparatus holds little sway there.
Just as in Bir al-Abed, this highly coordinated and professional act is the result of regional power play. Consequently, the usual barrage of condemnatory statements and promises of justice from politicians and parties are meaningless. However, they are right to point out that resolving the case of the Lebanese hostages should not occur at the expense of the state’s prestige, the rule of law or human dignity.
Let us be clear: We condemn whole-heartedly the kidnapping of those 11 pilgrims in Syria more than a year ago. The remaining nine should be released, immediately and without condition.
Yet this is not an opportunity for vigilante justice. Kidnapping innocent people is terrorism, pure and simple. We no longer live in a time where we take an eye for an eye. This reprehensible act will come back to haunt us if the pilots are not released, now and without preconditions. Quite apart from the precedent it sets, it is suicide for all Lebanese, regardless of sect or political affiliation. The nation is already struggling to draw breath, let us not choke ourselves by destroying our gateway to the world.