Ersal awaits the next battle

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A Lebanese army patrol in Ersal. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Jean Aziz

Published Thursday, September 4, 2014

It is true that not everything that is known should be said, and that some truths are better left unsaid, but it is also true that some facts need to be stated, especially facts shedding light on mistakes that can be corrected or reevaluated. What should we say then if these mistakes are deeply rooted in the past, and affect the present and the events that will take place in the future?

Much has been already written about the clashes that erupted in Ersal and the tragedy of August 2. But a lot more has been said in private conversations held in offices, palaces and headquarters about the events of that day and that night.

On July 10, this column was on the cover of Al-Akhbar’s print edition, featuring a detailed report titled: “ISIS poses serious threat to Lebanon.” On July 31, just 48 hours before the clashes, this same column revealed that Lebanese civilian and military officials have received information from European countries about possible mass kidnappings organized by terrorist groups to exchange hostages with Islamist prisoners held in Roumieh prison.

Today, the safety of Lebanon and the lives and security of its citizens are a top priority, which gives us another reason to stand by the army and to defend it, while seeking to reinforce it with all necessary and available means, including armament, support, decisions, and political cover on and off the field. This is necessary for the army to become a protector of the country and its residents, and not an idol that rules over the people and replaces the homeland.

Why are we bringing this up now? It is because Ersal and its neighboring areas, and probably other regions in Lebanon, may soon face another bloody conflict.

Within this framework, it is enough to go through the events that took place in the few hours that followed the slaughter on August 2. Adhering to the rule of limiting ourselves to only the beneficial facts, we will mention only three main issues:

First, the army commander spoke to the council of ministers a few hours after the clashes in Ersal began, and shared with the executive body, under which he operates, information he supposedly received from the army command.

“We did not know that that an important terrorist was arrested, even officers at the checkpoint where he was captured had not taken the decision to arrest him in advance. This man – Imad Jumaa – suddenly arrived at the checkpoint. He got out of his car and left it in the middle of the road, then ran away from it and from the officers. They captured him, thinking he left a car rigged with explosives or that he was trying to commit a terrorist attack,” the army commander said.

“Once under arrest, he confessed to a plan prepared by his group to invade some Lebanese territories,” the commander explained, adding that Jumaa spoke “without any pressure or coercion, he was not even slapped on the face. He gave detailed and documented statements…”

Second, a few hours before the army commander addressed the council of ministers, and while the army was clashing with armed takfiris in Ersal, Prime Minister Tammam Salam informed salafi sheikhs who had channels of communication with the militants, that Jumaa was to be freed within a few hours because his interrogation did not yield any results that would call for his arrest. However, the clashes that erupted in Ersal after Jumaa’s group attacked the army and regular citizens, and kidnapped both civilians and soldiers have complicated the situation and hindered his release.

Third, a few days after the statements by the Lebanese officials, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri informed a former minister who visited him at his residence that he has comprehensive information suggesting that an official Lebanese faction deliberately caused the entire battle in Ersal.

Time is needed to clarify these three facts if we are to ever build a country and a state. But in the meantime, in the light of these facts, a great threat is lurking over Ersal. Recent information received by government officials and security forces suggested that about 3,000 takfiri militants have joined their associates stationed near the town in the past few weeks. They might either head to the east to recapture Qalamoun, or to the west to occupy Ersal once again, and maybe advance to regions beyond it.

Militants seem pressured to take one of these measures fast, before winter, since they would not be able to last more than a few weeks in the mountains in the cold and the snow.

What does this mean? It simply means that Lebanon, on all levels, whether its government, various authorities, people, or Resistance have a short period of time to get ready to face the next takfiri wave. This deadline may not be enough if [officials] continue to lose time and miss opportunities while chasing banalities, but it can be more than enough, if they take advantage of every second to deploy all possible efforts.

Two important decisions should be taken on the political and military levels. On the ground, and based on the same rule of restricting facts to a need to know basis, the units that waged the first battle should be restructured. The military institution should also confront the political authority and assert that yielding to the pressures of takfiris, regarding the “army battalions” movement is beyond shameful; it even amounts to a disgrace and treason!

The army should return to the positions it captured in Ersal on the third day of the battle when it made remarkable advances thanks to the great sacrifices of its martyrs and heroes. Besides, the army should not neglect some hills, known by concerned officials, that provide soldiers with a firing range that is sufficient to repel any attack.

On the government level, the council of ministers should urgently discuss establishing an emergency operations center between the Lebanese army, the Syrian army, and the Resistance in preparation for the upcoming battle.

Such a decision is legal based on treaties signed by the two countries and covered by UN resolution number 2170. It also has political cover since Prime Minister Tammam Salam recognizes Syrian Ambassador Abdel Karim Ali and has received him in the Grand Serail as a representative of the Syrian president.

This step is also covered by national exigency and national interest, the latter being the name given to this current government. The clock is ticking... It has already rained in September and winter is nearing, Lebanon now needs a general to wipe out the enemy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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