Bedawi Palestinian camp, LEBANON – Can Hezbollah Prevent DAASH (IS) From Pulling Lebanon into its Caliphate?
The answer to that question is—perhaps. But for a number of reasons, some suggested below, it’s not a happy picture, and it won’t be a walk in the park.
The recent “victories” by DAASH (IS, or Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq have not taken long to begin reverberating through the ground in Lebanon. A gauntlet of sorts stands before this country, one that it must negotiate successfully if it is to avoid an all-out war, dismemberment or its substantial subjection to elements of extreme Islam.
One IS leader, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari, recently announced the expansion of the IS to include Lebanon, declaring, “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, entitled “Urgent appeal to Sunnis in Lebanon.” The statement reads in part: “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.”
The sole concern, Al-Nusra went on to proclaim, is for the blood of the Sunnis and to clear the Umma’s “conscience before God,” and the organization issued a call for “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 IS 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 IS/Nusra Front to Lebanon.
It is fairly clear as of July 11 that jihadi factions are racing to declare war on Lebanon, this occurring simultaneous to a 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 halting this forward progress will require Hezbollah taking a lead role, and that the Lebanese Army and security agencies are not up to the job.
Hezbollah may agree with Washington, at least on the latter point. Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP WalidSukkarieh, from the Bekaa Valley, called last week for cooperation between the armies of Lebanon and Syria to control the flow of gunmen through the border—but 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.”
Reports are also mounting of sleeper cells in different Lebanese regions such as Beirut, the Beqaa Valley, and North Lebanon, and 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 lovely British twin sisters, 16-year-old Salma and Zahra Halane, are bubbly, exceptionally bright, and hold amazing 28 GCSEs (GSCE, or General Certificate of Secondary Education, is an academic qualification awarded in a specified subject in the British education system).
Both girls were planning to train as doctors. Now, however, they are in Syria, where they reportedly have joined DAASH, and may soon be headed for Lebanon. Reports suggest the sisters were normal teenagers, doing what teens do everywhere these days—pouting for selfies, shopping, participating in school activities, etc.—and they apparently did not discuss politics much with friends, although they 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 had excelled. At any rate, the teenagers’ parents speculate that Salma and Zahra became radicalized while viewing extremist Islamist material online, though really no one knows for certain.
The other example is the British DAASH recruit, Muthanna, by all reports a sweet, polite, and very considerate young man. Muthanna is now an IS spokesman, urging all people of good will to join him in the new Caliphate in making jihad for the betterment of mankind. The kid is barely out of high school. The family immigrated to Britain from Yemen, and before deciding to join DAASH, Muthanna had been accepted by four medical schools in Britain, according to the UK Daily Mail.
“Send us; we are your sharp arrows,” he has pledged to IS “Amir” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Throw us at your enemies wherever they may be.”
On another video, the young man can be seen saying, “We’ll go to Jordan and Lebanon with no problem.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by the way, shares the same forename-by-deed-poll with the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (the Truthful), but what’s in a name? More importantly, why are some our best and brightest young Muslims joining extremist jihadists? Can they be reasoned with and stopped? How many more youngsters at this hour are preparing something similar?
Recent developments in Iraq and Syria should be worrisome. DAASH’s 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 IS. “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,” they aver.
In point of fact, DAASH has already come to Lebanon, and more jihadists arrive every day. This country’s extremely politicized and sectarian local media have been accused of frightening the public by overstating the matter, and these days “news” accounts of DAASH agents flooding across the Syrian border have been a bit weak on substantive details.
Moreover, every “confession” from a “takfiri” is widely suspected to be the result of torture. But be that as it may, on July 9, Beirut’s Daily Star, citing security sources, announced that “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 Hamayed.”
Suspected also, it seems, is that several members of fundamentalist groups may be laying low in various apartments and hotels across the Lebanese capital, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps. What appears fairly certain is that Lebanon is being nominated to join the IS—and that DAASH is here.
We also hear reports of 28 rigged cars, vehicles purportedly being kept in secret locations in Arsal, Western Beqaa, Tripoli, and the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh. The autos are said to be hidden in camouflaged garages, while security forces are working to determine 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, 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.” Both leaders exhibit personal charisma, intelligence and ability to gather and inspire followers. Some have even gone so far as to suggest organizational acumen and self-sacrifice similarities between the two men and their organizations, despite profound ideological/religious/sectarian differences.
An IS invasion of Lebanon, along the lines of what it achieved in northwest Iraq, is thus looking increasingly likely.
Most of the expected tactics are well known in Lebanon, and include bringing suicide bombers to target politicians, the use of IS sleeper cells, and exploiting some specific areas in some Palestinian or Syrian refugee camps.
Lebanese journalist Jean Aziz, for one, feels the threat is quite significant. Aziz discusses a recent intelligence report making the rounds that concludes that DAASH 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 comprised of various nationalities, a force well known to be gathering in the mountainous regions and consisting of veterans from nearby battles, including at al-Qusayr, villages around Homs, Yabrud, Nabak Nasab, and west to Qalamoun, as well as hardened fighters from secret camps near the Lebanon border.
The report cited by Aziz estimates that as many as 5,000 DAASH fighters will be mobilized by offering cash, spoils, “victory” and enlargement of the Islamic State. Many are believed currently residing in caves and tunnels dug in the mountains over the past three years, reportedly with a huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition, and 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.
Some in Washington also feel an attack could be launched from Arsal, possibly under cover of several simultaneous attacks around the country from sleeper cells. Such attacks most likely would target key Lebanese military and security sites, and could be carried out with the assistance of many in Lebanon who are sympathetic to DAASH. This would include residents in some Palestinian camps as well Syrian refugees in certain sensitive areas.
Another development, one being downplayed by Washington but which is said to be causing private worry in the Pentagon, is this week’s Iraqi warning to the UN that Sunni militants have seized nuclear materials used for scientific research at a university in Mosul. In a letter reported by Reuters, Iraq’s envoy to the UN is claiming that DAASH has taken possession of nearly 40kg (88lb) of uranium compounds.
Washington and Tehran, along with their allies, view threats from DAASH similarly in some respects. Islamist militants that have swept across Iraq and parts of Syria pose a clear and “imminent danger,” as Defense Secretary Chuck. Hegel put it.
“Make no mistake—and this country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress—this is a threat to our country,” Hagel said. “This is a force that is sophisticated, it’s dynamic, it’s strong, it’s organized, it’s well-financed, it’s competent.”
Similarly, Tehran has made it clear Iran will not tolerate an IS caliphate 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 forwarded 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—why are they suddenly and seemingly in great numbers taking such an interest in DAASH’s military achievements? And why are so 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, a rupture that will deeply affect Lebanon’s coming war with DAASH.
During the spate of bombings over the past year in my largely Shia Hezbollah neighborhood of South Beirut—bombings 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 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, that it will do this by employing some of the elements of a Sunni-Shia strategy outlined in a written report by the author this week for Hezbollah leadership.