Support for Army is key

Lebanese army soldiers flash the sign of victory as they drive out of the town of Arsal, near the Syrian border on August 4, 2014 as Lebanese troops shelled militant positions in the mountains around the town on the third day of fierce fighting in the area. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID

If the ongoing standoff in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal proves anything, it is that time is of the essence.

Media reports have been full of speculation about talks and a possible truce between the Lebanese Army and Islamist gunmen. But all of this has receded into the background amid the grim statistics for Lebanon’s military and security personnel: 14 killed, over 80 wounded and nearly two dozen missing.

It is more than a case of the Army’s prestige being at stake – rather, it’s a matter of life and death. It is no secret that the Army and security institutions are over-stretched and under-equipped. Those who defend the Army so vociferously should also act, and not just talk, when it comes to addressing its deficiencies.

A political system that can’t elect a president and is unlikely to hold a proper round of parliamentary polls, for two years running, is unlikely to gain the international community’s confidence. As a more concrete example, obtaining French arms, already paid for by Saudi Arabia, in order to bolster the Army’s capabilities means that having a strong and healthy political system is a top priority, and not a luxury.

Hoping that the Arsal crisis goes away so the system returns to “normal” is an exercise in self-deception. With each passing day lives are lost, while confidence in Lebanon’s institutions drops even further.

The Nahr al-Bared campaign to root out extremists in a refugee camp was supposed to take only several days, but most people can remember how long it took in the end. Perhaps fewer sacrifices would have been needed back then, if the military had been given the support it deserved in the first place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 05, 2014, on page 7.




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