Why Is Lebanon’s Security Faltering?

August 16, 2023 Topic: Lebanon Region: Middle East Blog Brand: Lebanon Watch Tags: LebanonHezbollahCivil WarFailed StateIran

Why Is Lebanon’s Security Faltering?

It is clear from observing the reality in Lebanon on the ground that there is no going back from Kahale.

History has shown that it only takes a single incident for Lebanon to totally fall back into violence and social breakdown. Fortunately, neither has occurred … yet. However, the country’s stability is testing the hand of fate. A gun battle on August 9 in Kahale left people with little optimism regarding the future of Lebanon’s security and possible social cohesion among different communities.

It all began when a truck owned by the pro-Iranian Shia party Hezbollah fell over on a highway connecting Beirut to the Beqaa Valley in the Chrisitan village of Kahale. After the accident, residents from the town surrounded the lorry to see what was happening, leading to a clash between Hezbollah members and Kahale residents that left two people dead. Fadi Bejjani, a Kahale resident, and Ahmad Ali Kassas, a Hezbollah supporter, were both killed in the fighting. A video was released by local media that shows the moment Bejjani was injured by the gunfire. Later, he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The Lebanese army eventually took control of the situation and established a security perimeter blocking unauthorized vehicles from entering the area. For days, people in the village mourned at a nearby church as they buried Bejjani and posted a large picture of him nearby. The same was true for Kassas. People in the southern Beirut Suburb of Dahieh rallied around his body in a funeral procession and deemed him a “martyr.” Some bullets from the burial ceremony fell on the Lebanese defense minister Maurice Sleem’s car, which was initially misreported as an assassination attempt.

Why is this being allowed to continue? The topic of Hezbollah’s weapons is consistently being at the forefront of Lebanon’s national discussion. Unfortunately, the country sees more deadly examples of why this issue cannot be ignored any longer. To add insult to injury, Elias Hasrouni, a coordinator from the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) party, was kidnapped and subsequently murdered in his hometown of Bint Jbeil, located in southern Lebanon. An investigation has been launched to uncover the motive and culprits of Hasrouni’s murder.

The south is a Hezbollah stronghold, and rumors have begun to spread that the party shares some responsibility for the abduction and killing of the retired official. The LF’s leader, Samir Geagea, released a statement calling on the proper security forces to identify the truth immediately, and dismissed the initial report that he died from a car crash.

“It has become evident in the past two days that the passing of our comrade Elias al-Hasrouni in Ain Ibl was not the result of a car accident, as initially reported.”

“Through the surveillance cameras of neighboring houses near the scene, it has been revealed that an ambush, consisting of at least two cars, was set up for our comrade Elias. As he passed by, he was abducted by the members of the ambush, estimated to be between six and nine individuals, and taken to another location where he was killed,” Geagea continued.

Geagea was not the only one to comment on Hasrouni’s death. Samy Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb party, gave a speech in which he praised Hasrouni as a “heroic resistance fighter” but also rejected the necessity of launching a formal investigation into his murder; claiming that it was “obvious” who was responsible for it.  

“We will not condemn or demand to know the truth as it is obvious in a well-known security area. Yesterday in Majdal, today in Ain Ebel, and tomorrow in any region of Lebanon! The country is hijacked, the Lebanese are hostages, and we are in a state of resilience and resistance,” he noted. Many Lebanese who oppose Hezbollah believe that the country’s institutions are under the sway of the Iranian-allied movement and cannot function independently. No doubt, any inkling of trust that remained before the Kahale incident has now completely vanished. A new strategy is being developed, but what it is remains elusive.

Elias Hankach, a member of parliament and Kataeb representative, spoke with the National Interest and reiterated this point. “I don’t think we can keep doing things the classical way; the institutional approach cannot be trusted. A change of gear needs to happen.”

Hankach did not specify what he meant but said an announcement should be made soon. It is clear from observing the reality in Lebanon on the ground that there is no going back from Kahale. People have grown tired of mourning and burying their loved ones. They want security and prosperity. In the eyes of many Lebanese, the current formula cannot achieve either. There is a renewed defiance coming from the opposition; one fueled by a vindication that they were right all along on the question of Hezbollah’s arms. But there is also an urgency to end this problem now before things get worse. Otherwise, the security situation will continue to deteriorate. The most important reaction is for cooler heads to prevail and not allow passions of anger to lead to a misstep that can drag the entire country into a state of chaos. In the end, the Lebanese army must have the first and final say in handling weapons and security matters. Every party and citizen in Lebanon must respect that.

Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.

Image: Shutterstock.