Lebanese Assassinations Create Political Crisis in Intelligence Services

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 37

Johnny Abdo, the former head of Lebanese military intelligence, recently predicted continued attacks against members of the pro-government “March 14” parliamentary coalition in the days leading up to the selection of the next president by parliament (The Daily Star, October 29). Abdo’s comments were issued after the assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem of the March 14-affiliated Kataeb party, whom was killed right before deliberations on the presidential issue began this September between Lebanon’s parliamentary leaders. The attack was the latest in a series against anti-Syrian political figures that began in October of 2004 and has continued to polarize the country politically.

Recognizing Lebanon’s penetrability and susceptibility to targeted assassinations, arms smuggling and most recently an influx of jihadist militants, the international community has been aiding the state’s security services in order to enable Lebanon to deal with an increasingly complex security situation. These efforts include a U.S. pledge to provide $60 million worth of aid to Lebanon’s Interior Security Forces (ISF) and Germany’s supervision over a newly created Common Border Force (CBF). The latter is an interagency initiative aimed at fostering a cooperative effort amongst Lebanon’s security services in order to secure Lebanon’s porous borders with Syria (Al-Mustaqbal, November 1; The Daily Star, October 6; November 3).

There are, however, indications that the current political deadlock may undermine these efforts as the current confrontation between pro-government and opposition forces is played out through the security services themselves. According to the pro-government daily Al-Mustaqbal, Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Democratic Gathering Bloc and an outspoken critic of Syria, alleges that there are elements within Lebanon’s ISF and army that remain loyal to the Syrian regime. He suggests that the only way to end Syria’s “guardianship” is to elect a president who is free from Damascus’s influence (Al-Mustaqbal, October 21). Representative of the opposition’s take on the situation, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently demanded the release of high-ranking officials of the ISF, Army, Public Security and the Presidential Guard, who were taken into custody after being implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, suggesting that their incarceration was politically motivated (Al-Manar TV, October 31).

Subsequently, Lebanon’s ISF has become the object of increased ridicule by figures allied with the Hezbollah-led “March 8” opposition. Most verbal attacks focus on the intelligence branch of the ISF. According to an article that appeared in the pro-opposition daily Al-Akhbar, the intelligence branch was created at the request of Hariri in order to compensate for Syrian control of the security services during its occupation of Lebanon (Al-Akhbar, September 19). This assertion fed the perception that the branch is an organization subservient to Hariri’s son, MP Saad Hariri, and his allies. As the information branch carried out a series of unpopular arrests, entities allied with the opposition have come to label it as a “militia” and “street gang” acting on behalf of the ruling majority to violate the rights of their constituents (The Daily Star, October 5; Al-Mustaqbal, November 2).

Overall, these developments provide for a problematic situation in Lebanon. Despite gains made in the resources available to organizations such as the ISF, the ability to achieve any progress on the counterterrorism front may be subject to political trends in Lebanon. If these crises remain unresolved, then the assassinations and attacks will, accordingly, remain a constant threat. Furthermore, cooperative efforts like the CBF that could potentially be beneficial to Lebanon’s long-term security will remain ineffective if entities within the security services are perceived as having particularistic agendas.