Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Army Command

Five deaths, and hundreds of wounded later, the day has finally come to an end.

The stated mission of the Lebanese Army throughout this most recent crisis has been to maintain neutrality while defending the state’s institutions and the safety of its citizens. Today, it did neither. Through its inaction the Army was in fact providing tacit support to pro-Syrian rioters as they sought to fill Beirut’s streets, and the balconies that line those streets, with the black acrid smoke that would come to define that city’s skyline.

The facts are clear: the army did not manage to keep open any roads blockaded by pro-Syrian rioters throughout the day; it did not protect private property or citizens’ right to commute throughout the day; it put in an effort, but ultimately failed to ensure citizens’ safety in the face of rioters armed with stones, sticks, and assault rifles; and most dangerously off all, it seemingly disobeyed direct government orders to ensure all of the above.


The army did, however, actually manage to permanently remove a number of blockades throughout the country today, but these serious efforts (and accomplishments) only came after the intervention of large masses of anti-Syrian party partisans and leaders, rapidly mobilized to intervene in the face of the army’s refusal to adequately perform its duties. The implications can hardly be missed. After two full days of promises by pro-government ministers and party leaders that the army would be the one to ensure that citizens could get to work (and thereby allow for an unambiguous litmus test of each side’s popularity) safely, the country was forced to endure painful declarations to the tune of “we will be forced to take actions into our own hands [if the army doesn’t act]!”

These statements and the sometimes deadly clashes that accompanied them, will now most likely be turned into valuable ammunition by the country’s pro-Syrian forces in an effort to relieve some of their more malicious cohorts (SSNP members) from the spotlight they have been placed in since security forces discovered a number of weapons and explosives caches secretly stored by them. It would be naive to think that this outcome was anything less than anticipated, if not planned for, given today’s riots’ provocative nature.


But exactly how accidental was the army’s ‘tacit’ alignment? Following the resignation of six pro-Syrian ministers from the rainbow cabinet assembled by PM Seniora, rumors have been flying about the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, being a ‘Syrian-inspired’ compromise choice (or maybe something less of a choice and more of an imposition – whether it be due to circumstance or fabrication) for the upcoming Lebanese Presidential elections due later this year. These rumors were reinforced by Suleiman’s recent dabblings in the country’s political life and his now frequent visits to the country’s leading religious and political figureheads. Something of a new habit for a man who gave the same, if not less, number of public statements during the July war as he has in the past 8 weeks.

Perhaps a not so surprising development given the fate of his last predecessor, General Emile Lahoud, the President of the Republic that is. An alliance of the two generals in the support of that other renegade general, the one leading today’s riots from Dora to Batroun (General Michel Aoun), would therefore unveil the operations of a Syrian-sponsored junta of sorts made up of three of the country’s former (one current) top military men.

More Analysis

Given the failures of the day, and the attempts of some in the media and among the opposition’s ranks to shore up these failures as a brilliant display of neutrality, it is important to point that some things the army could have done to have actually, truly, been neutral.

The first thing they could have done is to remove the thousands of tires dropped off at opposition hotspots around the country the day before the actual riots, in anticipation of road blockages. This action would not have entailed a rolling confrontation with opposition partisans and would have spared the eyes, lungs and nerves of a frightened population the trauma they endured throughout today’s manifestations.

The second thing the army could have done was to setup both permanent and lightning checkpoints throughout the country - again the day before (follow the awaiting tires) – to limit the movements of armed partisans, from both factions, who seemed to take no heed of the army’s presence. These checkpoints could’ve also been used to stop the massive trucks and tractors used by the pro-Syrian rioters to move dirt, sand, and rubble onto the nation’s highways in order to block them.

If you’re worried that these actions don’t sound neutral at all, then you shouldn’t be. The third action that should have been taken by the army was to allow the pro-Syrian demonstrators to have their day of strikes and road closures, for a few hours (say five to be generous), without the use of burning cars, tires, dumpsters or mounds of rubble, and then have them peacefully disperse, open the roads, and allow the country to go back to a normal way of life. This could have been accomplished through a clear and frank discussion with both factions to let them know exactly where the army stood on the issue of the riots before they took place, something they failed to make clear even to the government from which they are supposed to take orders.

Had it taken these actions, the army might have retained the respect that it lost today and five of our countrymen might have retained their lives.


  1. the army did not manage to keep open any roads blockaded by pro-Syrian rioters throughout the day; it did not protect private property or citizens’ right to commute throughout the day;

    Your pardon, but I don't recall reading any account of private citizens' property being stolen or destroyed against their will.

  2. solomon2:
    browse through the pictures til you find the most convincing one: Click Me!

  3. Still not convinced? Watch this video, notice the condition of these cars being removed from harms way after stone-throwing Hizballah rioters invaded the suburb of Hazmieh. Notice also the damage to a buildings glass/plastic canvas from falling rocks.

    There are hundreds of cases like these. Throughout the day, yesterday, we were more worried about the "big picture", but we shouldn't ignore the suffering inflicted on everyday citizens by yesterday's barbaric actions.

  4. A friend asked me to elaborate on the following part of the post:
    The army did, however, actually manage to permanently remove a number of blockades throughout the country today, but these serious efforts (and accomplishments) only came after the intervention of large masses of anti-Syrian party partisans and leaders

    Here I'm talking about the openning of the Nahr el Kalb, Nahr el Mot, and Dora blockades. The intervention I'm talking about are the repeated calls by Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea for the army to open the road. After it became clear that they weren't going to do that, LF supporters descended en masse and forced a confrontation with the rioters. At that point the army had to intervene and undertake its duty to provide safe passageway for its citizens, i.e. open the damned roads.

    PS - I know I come off overly pro-LF in this comment but I guarantee you I'm not. I am, however, anti-being-told-when-and-where-I-can-drive-in-my-country-by-a-bunch-of-hooligan-teenagers.

  5. The pic of the cars being smashed while the Army is standing by doing nothing. I am corrected.

  6. Actually the army did in a lot of situation be the middle line between both camps and prevented mass events which would have evolved to a series of more violence.

    As for the army not totally blocking the demonstrators was probably Slueiman's policy of Fouad Shehab, keeping it neutral. As for the smashing of cars while army soldiers were standing does not represent the army as a whole rather the officer in command (like I said earlier, I served the army and got a clue or two about it). So if that is a case, he might be candidate number II to the president, after the alleged re-nomination of Amin Gemayel.

    Fourth, the army is still a weak army, special thanks to Syria's mandate which strengthened the Security Forces and intigrated its intelligence with Lebanon's. Another reason is the United States, which does not allow the army to be stronger. A third, a policy followed by Camille Shamoun which considered the fact of having the army weak is its best method of avoiding invasions. Fourth, the sectarian situation can cause the army to break up (primary fear of yesterday's incident of not slapping the demonstrators directly) specially that would trigger an uproar which the army definitely lacks the units to control (again weak army).

    let us be a bit careful and include all aspects of the situation. Eventually, this is the Lebanese Army and not some class A organized army.

    Oh yeah Blacksmith Jade, I HATE EVERYONE TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    PS: Cheerios friend :)

  7. btw, nobody explained to me what the heck MP Faris' logic of we went down for "Moral Support to the Lebanese Army" O.o

  8. In the cases in which it did succeed in keeping factions separated, the army was doing what it was supposed to do. But at the end of the day they did not remain neutral or neutral enough! I think that if it had undertaken any one of the actions I advocated in the post then the situation would have been infitely better.

  9. I love your lack of spouting party lines! It's so refreshing. I enjoy the fact that people here are unregulated and still somewhat civil. I feel you deserve more than a round of applause. Guys this is the real marrow of democracy. Everyone gets a say everyone gets an opinion yes roads DO SOMETIMES GET CLOSED... Chicago during the US protests against the war in Iraq. But that is the beauty of it... Things need to be said. It's far better than the report of gunfire I heard rattling around my apartment in Hamra. It's a process that must be learnt this "democracy" the sooner it returns to its birthplace the better. YES THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE HOME OF DEMOCRACY... THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE ONLY REASON ANYONE ANYWHERE ELSE KNOWS ABOUT THE GREEKS... THESE PEOPLE HAD THE BRAINS TO KEEP THE ANCIENT TEXTS ALIVE!!! Where is the respect due to this great history?

  10. Here's part of a comment I dropped over at MFL's blog to try and justify why I feel so strong about the need there was for the army to engage both sides in dialogue (MFL has a great post on yesterday's riots). The excerpt loosely sums up to a simple "they've done it before when it didn't matter, they should've done it now when it did matter!":

    The army has spent the better part of 4 months negociating with the armed Palestinian factions operating in Taamir (Jund el Sham et al) in order to deploy in the area. Just to be clear, this is the Lebanese army negotiating with a foreign, illegal, armed band of extremists over a deployment on its own territory. In advance of the riots yesterday it could have undertaken some sort of negociations to make sure that nothing went wrong.

    I guess moral support is meant to equal intimidation, or counter-intimidation if they thought the army was out-numbered (or out-gunned) by the rioters, and therefore too scared to move on them. Thats my guess.

    Otter, thanks for the ringing endorsement! I haven't been able to access your blog for some reason but I think you'd fit in just fine in the little online community free, how 'bout a link exchange? :)

  11. So if that is a case, he might be candidate number II to the president, after the alleged re-nomination of Amin Gemayel

    are u saying michel suleiman should be a candidate for president?

  12. They coud have broken up those demos peacefully, as they usually do when they want to. There have water cannons, don't they?

  13. nick, I am saying he might be as a reconciliation, it happened before in 1958, and again it happened when Bshara el Khoury's resignation. Traditionally when el Khoury'second term was disastrous and was forced to resign, he chose Fouad Shehab as a Prime Minister (Aoun and Shehab were the only two PMs post french mandate to be maronites. The sectarian logic is that if the President can't be a Maronite, the PM would be, henceforth, the head of the army is strong enough to be so. Yet, those took place pre-Taed Accord.

    So he might be a candidate, that is all I am saying. Lately, a lot are speculating it is Amin Gemayel, since almost every week there are two or three meetings between him and Hezbollah. Besides, Gemayel is the only person who can shut Aoun up afterall Gemayel was his boss, and Gemayel took care of AOun when he had a nervous breakdown, and it was Gemayel appointing Aoun as Prime Minister.


    PS: Jade, I love the discussions over here, respect :)

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  15. One question: which opposition parties are being accused of doing damage to public or private property? Your telling me Hizb boys went to Hazmieh? Or Amal? Big difference.

    I heard a Marada guy shot dead a LF guy when LFers were trying to raid or vandalize a Marada office. I dont know if its true, but who cares in such situations.

    I am sad and sorry for all deaths and injuries and also the loved one of the dead and injured... for today's events too.

  16. Anonymous1:30 AM

    Michael Young agrees:
    " was a Lebanese Forces push against the Aounists in Nahr al-Kalb that compelled the army to open the northern highway. Something similar happened in Jbeil.

    By the end of the day there was palpable anger in many areas of Lebanon, both Christian and Muslim, that the armed forces had failed to implement their promise to maintain roads open.

    Between 1990 and 2005 who appointed senior military commanders? Basically, the Syrians, Hizbullah, President Emile Lahoud, and Michel Murr, when he was defense minister. Many remaining officers were Aounists...There has been talk of Suleiman's presidential ambitions."

  17. Anonymous1:31 AM

    link to article of quotes above:

  18. Proud to report...You got linked!


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