Lebanese politicians apathetic towards the threat of the Islamic State

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An image made available on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin on June 11, 2014 shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) posing with the trademark Jihadists flag after they allegedly seized an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern Iraqi province of Salahuddin. (Photo: AFP-Welayat Salahuddin)

By: Hiyam Kossayfi

Published Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In Lebanon, scores of statements have been issued to denounce the practices of the Islamic State (IS). However, do these statements actually rise up to the actual extent of the risks that will be looming over Lebanon in case IS closes in on its borders? Are Lebanon’s politicians really taking these threats seriously?

As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took over large swathes of land in Iraq and announced the establishment of an Islamic State (IS), the Lebanese public in general were busy making jokes about the organization. This only shows that the Lebanese, so taken up with the summer parties and festivities, have not yet realized the perils of ISIS’ transformation into an Islamic State, as it expanded in Iraq.

Despite the many campaigns launched in solidarity with the Iraqi Christian and Yazidi communities, a number of political factions in Lebanon have either belittled the significance of the Islamic State, or considered it as merely an armed group, one with no religious, political or even military dimensions.

Today, the main problem in Lebanon is that although a number of major developments have already taken place, the country is still dealing with this self-declared “state”, as if it were simply a name in the media or an image on the screen. And while international capitals such as Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow and many others, now consider the Islamic State a top priority, as expressed by their politicians and in their media, the Lebanese cabinet is busy discussing building landfills and opening new faculties and universities.

Meanwhile, as Damascus awaits an international and regional agreement on whether to launch US air strike or any other military action against IS, in coordination with the regime or without any cooperation with it, both Syria and Lebanon are at risk.

Unfortunately, in the past few days, Lebanese officials on all levels, have failed to show the proper amount of concern regarding the Islamic State, which is now threatening Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Both countries have already widened the scope of their international and regional communication channels as the IS continues to draw nearer on their borders.

In general, the Lebanese public is utterly engrossed in their own internal issues and in the political campaigns that have followed the battle in Ersal, to the extent that everyone has forgotten that there is a reason for everything taking place in Iraq, and for the events breaking out in Syria.

It is no secret that only a few officials in Lebanon are following up the advancements of the IS up close, most prominently Hezbollah, and not only because it has troops deployed in neighboring Syria.

MP Walid Jumblatt is also monitoring the situation in Iraq and Syria and he is concerned that the IS may eventually approach the Lebanese borders.

Meanwhile, Sunni political forces are publicly denouncing the IS without taking any tangible actions on the ground, and at the same time, the Lebanese Forces are belittling its magnitude, and the Free Patriotic Movement, represented in the government, is exploiting Christian concerns for its own electoral and presidential interests.

The informed political circles are well aware of Syria’s geographic nature. They are concerned about the recent critical developments and the heavy losses arising from IS’ capture of the Tabaqa airport near the Syrian city of al-Raqqa and their repercussions on Lebanon.

According to these circles, “After a red line was drawn for the IS advancement toward Kurdish regions in Iraq, and since it is very risky to head toward Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State is now focusing on Syria.”

“Recently, the IS has tightened its grip over the district of Raqqa and captured the Tabaqa military base. This is considered the biggest blow for the Syrian regime since the beginning of the war, and the biggest victory made by the IS militants since their military apparatus started to expand in Syria and in Iraq under its black flag,” they explained.

After taking control of Raqqa, the IS can now proceed in three other directions, since attacking the Kurdish region is no longer an option:

First, heading toward Deir Ezzor, neighboring Raqqa and Iraq, in order to expand the scope of its presence. This is considered the easiest option since IS already has military pockets present there.

Second, heading toward Aleppo. Yet, this option now seems unlikely since the battle between the regime and the armed opposition groups, including ISIS forces, has not been decided yet.

Third, heading toward Homs and Hama. Both these Syrian cities are geographically far from Raqqa, but are only separated by an almost barren desert. This option seems the most dangerous for Syria, since it will put both the Alawite and Christian regions under immense military pressure. Such a risk would eventually displace hundreds of thousands of people who will likely pour into Lebanon.

The third option seems to hold a direct threat to Lebanon, in case the battle reaches its northern borders. The Syrian regime will have to face the challenge of defending the Alawite and the Christian regions, while Hezbollah will have to defend Homs to keep ISIS from drawing near the Lebanese borders.

Lebanese political factions opposing Hezbollah and Syria, may denounce both parties and blame them for the actions committed by ISIS against Lebanon, exactly what the Future Movement has been doing.

Today, Lebanon is witnessing the rise of the Islamic State, and the Lebanese people are expecting to hear answers from their government, which represents pro- and anti- Hezbollah factions.

In fact, Lebanon took advantage of the battles in Iraq in order to enjoy a period of relative security. Nevertheless, the battle in Ersal seriously broke this stability and suggested negative repercussions for the future.

In the aftermath of Raqqa and the possibility the battle will move to Homs, how will Lebanon react if IS did decide to head toward Homs instead of Deir Ezzor? Will it be able to bear the military pressures on its borders, which will also have many consequences for neighboring Lebanese villages in the Bekaa and the north region, especially if one of the parties gets leverage?

After the events in Ersal and the threats of the Islamic State, who can guarantee that it will be possible to contain security events related to the Syrian crisis? What kind of measures can the cabinet impose on the borders? And what sort of measures are being taken to deal with the refugees?

In the end, one question ought to be answered before any other: Do the Lebanese authorities realize that the Islamic State actually exists and that it is closing in on Lebanon?

The events in Ersal and their aftermath suggest otherwise.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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