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Can Hezbollah Prevent DAASH (IS) From Pulling Lebanon into its Caliphate?

Jihadists in Lebanon

by FRANKLIN LAMB

Bedawi Palestinian camp, North Lebanon

Perhaps, but for a number of reasons, some suggested below, it’s not a happy picture and won’t be a walk in the park.

The long tentacles of the DAASH (IS) recent “victories” in Syria and Iraq have not taken long to start to move around Lebanon. The gauntlets for Lebanon to avoid all-out war and the possibilities for its partial dismemberment or its substantial subjection to elements of extreme Islamism are many.

Some evidence.

One ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari recently declared the expansion of the IS to include Lebanon.  He declared, “Our war will no longer be confined to Syria and Iraq. Soon, Lebanon will ignite” Meanwhile, Lebanon’s branch of al-Nusra Front posted on its Twitter feed its fourth official statement to date, titled “Urgent appeal to Sunnis in Lebanon.” The statement declared, “Our war will no longer be confined to Syria. Soon, Lebanon will ignite. Iran’s party [i.e. Hezbollah] and all its bases and strongholds are a legitimate target for us wherever they may be found.” Al-Nusra, proclaims to Lebanon’s Sunni community that its sole concern is for the blood of the Sunnis and to clear the Umma’s  conscience before God.” It called on “Sunnis in Lebanon to refrain from approaching or residing in [Hezbollah] areas or near its bases, and to avoid its gathering places and posts.” Security sources have reported that the terrorist cells intercepted at the Napoleon and Duroy hotels in Beirut had been dispatched by ISIS as part of its strategy to overwhelm Lebanon with a formidable wave of suicide bombings. The security services apparently base this reading on the previous modus operandi and strategy of the terrorist cells, and also on information relayed by U.S. and European sources, indicating that the many suicide bombers had been dispatched by ISIS/Nusra Front to Lebanon.

It is fairly clear as of 7/11/14 that jihadi factions are racing to declare war on Lebanon in parallel with rapid security developments, and in tandem with the Lebanese army crackdown on individuals suspected of involvement with these groups. Analysts in Washington and Europe suggest that the jihadi expansion into Lebanon will be a developing new phase ushering in a paradigm shift in terror attacks in the country.  Some even suggest that to stop them, Hezbollah is needed to take a lead role because the Lebanese army and security agencies cannot do the job. Hezbollah may agree with Washington, at least on the latter point.  Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Walid Sukkarieh from the Bekaa Valley called this week for cooperation between the Lebanese army and Syrian military to control the flow of gunmen through the border. He pointed out that the presence of Lebanese security forces along the border in the eastern town of Arsal aren’t enough to do the job. “The fanatic groups will try to take control over a big geographical area in Akkar and the Palestinian camps,” he said. “I have information from Akkar about ISIS and Jabhat al-]Nusra training camps. They’re trying to move toward Tripoli and their plan is to get closer to Beirut.”  There are a growing number of reports of sleeper cells in different Lebanese regions, such as Beirut, the Beqaa Valley, and North Lebanon. According to Sukkarieh, “Thousands are flocking from around the world to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”

Two quick cases in point. The British 16 year old  lovely twin sisters Salma and Zahra Halane, bubbly and exceptionally bright, with an amazing 28 GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification awarded in a specified subject in the British education system) were planning to train as doctors. Now they’re in Syria and reportedly have joined DAASH and may soon be heading to Lebanon.  Reports suggest that the sisters were normal teenagers doing what teens do everywhere these days it seems- pouting for selfies and shopping and participating in school activities. They apparently did not discuss politics much with friends but were known to support the Palestinian cause. Their parents believe they followed their older jihadi brother who left for Syria last year suspending his higher education at which he also excelled. The teenagers parents speculate that Salma and Zahra maybe became radicalized themselves while viewing extremist Islamist material online. But no one knows for certain.

The British DAASH recruit Muthanna, is another example. Known as a sweet, polite, and very considerate young man, he is now an IS spokesman urging all people of good well to join him the new Caliphate in making jihad for the betterment of mankind. The kid is barely out of high school. Before he decided to join jihad, Muthanna, whose family emigrated from Yemen to Britain, had been accepted by four medical schools in Britain, according to the UK Daily Mail. “Send us; we are your sharp arrows. Throw us at your enemies, wherever they may be,” pledges the young man to IS “Amir” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who shares the same forename -by deed pole- as the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (the Truthful). On another video Muthanna  says, “we’ll go to Jordan and Lebanon with no problem.”

Why are some our best and brightest young Muslims joining extremist jihadists? Can they be reasoned with and stopped? How many more youngsters are at this hour preparing something similar?

Recent developments in Iraq and Syria should be worrisome. DAASH’ goals of creating an Islamic state across the Sunni Arab world and erasing the borders drawn by colonial powers have energized jihadist factions across the region and even the world. In a video released last week, a group of jihadist fighters from several countries showed their support for ISIS. “We have participated in battles in Al-Sham (Syria) and we will go to Iraq  in a few days, and then we’ll come back and move to Lebanon.”

In point of fact, DAASH has come to Lebanon and more jihadists arrive every day. The extremely politicized and sectarian local media has sometimes been accused of frightening the public to engender fear and hatred of their local rivals as well as of regional IS. These days the public can read many “news” accounts of DAASH agents flooding across the Syrian border but security agencies have been  a bit weak on giving substantive details, and every ‘confession’  from a “takfiri” is widely suspected to be the result of torture.

According to a 7/9/14 report in Beirut’s Daily Star, citing security sources:  “Nusra Front and IS (DAASH) affiliated cells are regularly making their way into Beirut, readying themselves to conduct more suicide bombings in Lebanon…some of these cells have received intensive trainings in secret locations in Arsal’s Wadi Hmayed”.  It is also widely suspected that there are several members of fundamentalist groups laying low in different apartments and hotels across the Lebanese capital, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps.

It appears fairly clear that Lebanon is being nominated to join the Islamic State (IS) and that DAASH is here and may be involved with the 28 rigged cars that it is claimed are being kept in secret locations in Arsal, Western Bekaa, Tripoli, and the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh, some in camouflaged garages so as not to attract attention, while security forces are  working on the identity of their owners.

DAASH’s ability to inspire such intense support, such as from the young people noted above, worries Lebanese and U.S. officials. Their fighters seemingly will go anywhere and do anything for the cause while combining an intense passion for “justice” with an unusual degree of organization, technical skill and tactical planning. Some in Lebanon are beginning to refer to “Amir” Bakr Baghdadi as “the Nasrallah of DAASH.’ Given their personal charisma, intelligence and ability to gather and inspire followers. Some have even suggested organizational acumen and self-sacrifice similarities between the two men and their organizations despite profound ideological/religious/sectarian differences.

A DAASH (IS) invasion of Lebanon, along the lines of what it achieved in northwest Iraq, is increasingly likely and using similar tactics and forces. Most of the tactics are well known in Lebanon and include bringing suicide bombers to target politicians, the use of ISIS sleeper cells, and exploiting some specific areas in some Palestinian or Syrian refugee camps.

According to Lebanese journalist Jean Aziz there is a great threat that DAASH’s Islamic States will arrived to Lebanon. Aziz discusses a recent intelligence report making the rounds in Beirut that concludes that that DAASH is a serious threat and its growing forces will invade Lebanon from Al-Qalamoun Mountains. More specifically from the western slope of the eastern mountain range between Lebanon and Syria. The expected massive DAASH  ground incursion will include a large force composed of various nationalities that is well known to be gathering in the mountainous regions, being comprised of veterans from nearby battles including al-Qusayr, a number of villages around Homs,  Yabrud,  Nabak Nasab, west to Qalamoun, as well as hardened fighters from secret camps hear the Lebanon border.

The report cited by journalist Jean Aziz estimates that as many as 5,000 DAASH fighters will be mobilized offering cash, spoils, “victory” and enlargement of the Islamic State. . Many are currently in caves and tunnels dug in the mountains over the past three years, reportedly with a huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition. Once the battle begins, thousands of fighters from across Lebanon may pledge allegiance to DAASH. What is disturbing security services in Beirut, Washington and elsewhere, is Lebanon’s seemingly vast geography of fertile sectarian soil for IS to plant its creed, grow recruits and harvest territory for the expanding Caliphate.

The DAASH army is thought by some in Washington to also have the ability to launch a full scale attack on Lebanese territories from across from Lebanese border from Ersal. It will likely be launched under the cover of several attacks around the country from sleeper cells including suicide bombings against key Lebanese military and security targets. It is thought likely that there would be significant coordination with many in Lebanon who are sympathetic to DAASH including some in Palestinian camps or gatherings as well as from some Syrian refugees in sensitive areas.

Another development, being publicly played down in the Pentagon but privately is said to worry Washington is this week’s Iraqi warning to the  UN that Sunni militants have seized nuclear materials used for scientific research at a university in the city of Mosul. In a letter reported by Reuters, Iraq’s envoy to the UN is claiming that DAASH has taken possession nearly 40kg (88lb) of uranium compounds were seized in Mosul.

Washington and Tehran, along with their allies, view threats from DAASH similarly in some respects. According to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Islamist militants that have swept across Iraq and parts of Syria pose a clear and “imminent”. Hegel warned the media on 7/10/14.”Make no mistake—and this country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress—this is a threat to our country.  This is a force that is sophisticated, it’s dynamic, it’s strong, it’s organized, it’s well-financed, it’s competent,” Hagel told troops in remarks broadcast by the Pentagon.

Holding a similar view, Tehran has made it clear Iran will not tolerate a Caliphate (IS) on its borders nor will it allow the formation of a Sunni mini-state in Iraq’s Anbar province backed by Turkey or one of the Gulf States. Meanwhile Hezbollah is closely following the political, security and field developments in Iraq, and is reportedly conducting intensive meetings with military officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut with summaries of the discussions forward to Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC. Iran is aware that despite its support for the Iraqi regime’s weak forces and the claimed” revitalization” of Iraqi Shia militias, it cannot contain DAASH  on its own and this fact is leading to speculation of a limited US-Iran détente.

One question frequently asked by this observer in the Palestinian camps and in Hamra is why are Sunni Muslims,  who in the main, like their Shia brothers and sisters, are distinctively moderate, seemingly in great numbers  suddenly taking an interest in DAASH’s military achievements? And why are many insisting that the Umma will modify and tame the DAASH jihadist tiger, once the Caliphate returns, as happened to a great extent under the Ottomans.

This observer, like many in this region, has been struck by the Sunni-Shia mutual mistrust and growing antagonism that will deeply affect Lebanon’s coming war with DAASH. During the spate of bombings the past year in my largely Shia Hezbollah neighborhood of South Beirut, which left many dead and wounded, including two lovely youngsters Ali and Marie from my building on Abbas Mousawi Street, I took strong personal umbrage when a few Sunni friends made outrageous comments like, “They (their countrymen and fellow Muslims in Dahiyeh) deserved it and let’s hope there are many more bombings of the party of Satan by the rebels!”

Despite this appalling hate speech, which appears to be growing these days here in Lebanon, does Hezbollah hold the keys to ending the Sunni-Shia conflict in Lebanon and defeating DAASH?

This observer believes that it does. And that Hezbollah, in partnership with Lebanese security forces can and will stop DAASH by employing some of the elements of a Sunni-Shia strategy outlined in a written report by the author this week for Hezbollah leadership.

Parts of the rationale are presented in Part II of this article entitled:   How Hezbollah can rescue Lebanon from DAASH (IS), substantially reduce the regional Shia-Sunni internecine catastrophe and build Lebanon’s economy and it’s Resistance.   

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).