Nicholas Blanford is the author of Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel (Random House 2011). He lives in Beirut.

  • Battle exposes tensions between Hezbollah and Lebanese army, On: Sun, 17 Sep 2017

  • Lebanese Army readies for second phase of border campaign, On: Sun, 13 Aug 2017

  • Hezbollah seizing territory along Lebanon’s north-eastern border, On: Sun, 30 Jul 2017

  • Lebanon’s looming showdown in Arsal, On: Sun, 16 Jul 2017

  • Why Israel might ultimately determine UNIFIL’s budget, On: Sun, 09 Jul 2017

  • Nasrallah’s threat of Iran-backed Shia militias, On: Sun, 02 Jul 2017

  • Cuts to US aid will affect support to Lebanese army, On: Sun, 25 Jun 2017

  • Fighting around Tanf a critical flashpoint in Syria’s war, On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Gas reserves bring Lebanese-Israeli maritime border issue into focus, alternative option proposed, On: Sun, 11 Jun 2017

  • US sanctions on Hezbollah cause fallout on Lebanon’s economy, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Fears grow that Israel might risk surprise strike to cripple Hezbollah, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • Hezbollah defiance on Israel border undermines Lebanon Army , On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • Hezbollah may quit border forts to bolster hard-pressed Assad, On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Lebanon at ‘breaking point’ over Syrian war refugees , On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Golan tensions threaten new clash in old war zone , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • Israel, Hezbollah square off over eastern Med gas dispute, On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • Israel’s air strike on Syria spooks Middle East , On: Sun, 26 Mar 2017

  • Aoun’s Hezbollah remarks threaten US military aid , On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Hezbollah, Israel brace for all-out conflict , On: Sun, 05 Mar 2017

  • Trump set to zero in on Hezbollah in bid to curb Iran, On: Sun, 26 Feb 2017

  • In Syria, Hezbollah’s war veterans dig in for the long haul, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Security crackdown cuts terror attacks but dangers still lurk , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Assad’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ plan unveils a new Syria , On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • UN tiptoes back to Golan as Syrian tensions simmer , On: Sun, 25 Dec 2016

  • Hezbollah’s ties with Russia in Syria alarm Israelis , On: Sun, 25 Dec 2016

  • With eye on Israel, Hezbollah ‘smuggles in missile parts by air’, On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • Hopes rise in Lebanon energy bonanza, On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Hezbollah unveils its military might in Syria , On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • ‘Unpredictable’ Trump could seek a Syria deal with Putin, On: Sun, 13 Nov 2016

  • Aoun’s election bolsters Hezbollah as it grapples with Syria fallout, On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Battle exposes tensions between Hezbollah and Lebanese army

    In full view. Hezbollah fighters manning an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pick-up truck in a mountainous area around the Lebanese town of Arsal along the border with Syria, last July. (AFP)


    2017/09/17 Issue: 123 Page: 12



    Beirut- A recent two-phase battle against Islamic extrem­ists in north-east Leba­non has exposed the simmering tensions, rivalries and awkward coopera­tion that exist between the Leba­nese army and Hezbollah, both relatively powerful military forces crammed into the tiny land space of Lebanon.

    First Hezbollah, then the Leba­nese army took turns to battle Jab­hat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) and the Islamic State (ISIS) respectively in rugged barren mountains of the Qalamoun region straddling Leba­non’s north-east border with Syria.

    Both campaigns ultimately were successful and Lebanon has finally rid itself of the militant presence that had been a threat to domes­tic stability and security for more than three years. The Lebanese army has demonstrated that it is capable of confronting and defeat­ing non-state external threats such as JFS and ISIS. This helps validate the existing foreign military as­sistance programmes, especially those of the United States and Unit­ed Kingdom. But as the Lebanese army’s confidence and capabilities grow, it risks aggravating the cur­rent, sometimes uncomfortable, relationship with Hezbollah.

    One of the reasons the US has delivered $1.5 billion in military assistance to Lebanon since 2005 is to build up the Lebanese army as a counterweight to Hezbollah’s military might. It was never envis­aged that the army would militar­ily confront Hezbollah — a scenario that would spark civil war.

    But it was hoped that a stronger army would undermine in the Lebanese public eye Hezbollah’s rationale for maintaining its weap­ons. Hezbollah argues that its mili­tary doctrine, sometimes dubbed “hybrid-warfare,” in which guer­rilla-style tactics are combined with advanced weapons and com­munications systems, is the only valid deterrence against Israel. The argument has some merit as was proven in the month-long Hezbol­lah-Israel war in 2006 when the Is­raeli military was unable to defeat the Iran-backed group. While the Lebanese army is unlikely to ever attain the strength to take on the Israeli military, it has improved its capacity over the past decade to tackle other less conventional threats to Lebanon.

    The Lebanese army is often ac­cused of actively collaborating with Hezbollah, a claim that is used to harden the case that the US should abandon its support pro­gramme. It is true that Hezbollah wields some influence within the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and, as the dominant political force in Lebanon, has influence over gov­ernment decisions affecting the army.

    Hezbollah has a broad base of support in Lebanon and it is un­surprising that some in the army would share the party’s anti-Israel credo. On the other hand, there are officers and soldiers that bristle at Hezbollah’s military and political power and resent having to share matters of national security with a non-state actor.

    Hezbollah views a strong army, one that works with the US and British militaries, as potentially undermining its claim to be an es­sential asset of national defence. And lately, there have been indica­tions that Hezbollah is growing un­happy with the army’s improved capabilities and has acted subtly to undermine the army’s credibility.

    In April, Hezbollah staged a press tour of the southern border with Israel. The tour was ostensibly to show the new Israeli defensive measures along the border. But the trip, attended by more than 100 re­porters, also included the unusual sight of a dozen armed and uni­formed Hezbollah fighters stand­ing beside the road in full view of the press.

    The tableau was a breach of a UN Security Council resolution that forbids any weapons in the southern border district other than those of the Lebanese state and UN peacekeepers. The provocative move embarrassed the army (as well as the UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese government) and spurred General Joseph Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese army, and Prime Minister Saad Hariri to rush down to the southern border district the next day to stamp the state’s authority on the area.

    Similarly, the recent battles against JFS and ISIS can be viewed through the prism of simmering rivalry and mistrust between Hez­bollah and the Lebanese army.

    ISIS and JFS had dominated the ground east of the Sunni-populated town of Arsal and the Christian vil­lage of Ras Baalbek since 2014. By June this year, it was evident that a battle to remove the militants was imminent. What was less clear was whether it would be waged by Hezbollah or the Lebanese army. It was Hezbollah that made the first move, sending its fighters against JFS and – in a blaze of publicity – driving them out of Lebanon inside a week. The Lebanese army was left watching on the sidelines, hu­miliated before its American and British patrons while an organisa­tion classified by Washington as a terrorist group removed JFS.

    With JFS gone, the pressure was on the army to dispatch ISIS with the same efficiency and speed. As it turned out, the army swiftly routed ISIS, faster and more clean­ly than many expected. The army said it was not coordinating with anyone. But pro-Hezbollah media contradicted the claim by repeat­edly stating there was close coor­dination between it, the army and the Syrian military, a move seen as another attempt to embarrass the army in front of the US and UK.

    Then, just as the army was poised for the kill, Hezbollah stepped in and announced that a ceasefire deal had been arranged with ISIS that would see the extremists granted safe passage to eastern Syria in exchange for information on the fate of nine Lebanese sol­diers held by the group since 2014. The last-minute deal stole some of the thunder from the army’s vic­tory against ISIS.

    Furthermore, a “victory” parade that was scheduled to be held in downtown Beirut to celebrate the army’s win against ISIS was post­poned two days beforehand. The official reason was given as “lo­gistic reasons.” The unexpected postponement has drawn anger in some quarters and raised suspi­cions that it is yet another example of Hezbollah exerting its influence to minimise the role of the army and dampen its recent success against ISIS.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

    Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

    Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

    Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

    Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Regular Columnists

    Claude Salhani

    Yavuz Baydar

    Correspondents

    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

    Designers

    Ibrahim Ben Bechir

    Hanen Jebali

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    www.alarab.co.uk

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    177-179 Hammersmith Road

    London W6 8BS , UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved