Lebanon Defense Minister: The Army Fought Alone Against Assir
By: Firas Choufi
Published Monday, July 1, 2013
The Future Party campaign against the Lebanese army after its costly battle with Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir worries Minister of Defense Fayez Ghosn, who asserted his support for an extension of the army commander’s term in an interview with Al-Akhbar.
Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn quickly dismisses a question about what it will take to keep the Syrian crisis out of Lebanon, explaining, “The crisis is already here, and what the ministry and the army are trying to do is to contain it as much as possible.”
There isn’t anything new to report about Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s attacks in Saida. The sheikh’s whereabouts are still unknown to military officials, he says, adding that the events in Saida “would not have happened had it not been for the cold-blooded murder of military personnel.”
Asked why the Assir phenomenon continued for so long, he maintains that he was “left for so long because the country is fragile and because certain political factions protected him – if the army had detained him earlier, they would have complained that we are being biased against a particular group.”
Why can’t Lebanon control its border with Syria? Is the army capable of this feat? Ghosn reminds us that according to UN Security Council resolution 1701, Lebanon must keep 15,000 soldiers in the South. The problem is one of numbers, he insists, noting that “the country’s present insecurity means that we have to deploy the army in every street and alleyway.”
He categorically denies that Hezbollah fighters were involved in the Saida battle alongside the army, as some politicians and media outlets have suggested. The army is independent and cannot take sides, he maintains.
What about extending army commander Jean Kahwaji’s term as some have proposed? He says he was the first to propose the idea to the cabinet and was hoping parliament would make it official soon, given the delicacy of the country’s security.
About the arming of the poorly-equipped Lebanese military, he says that the government has passed a five-year plan to that end, but that the $1.6 billion sum discussed is not nearly enough.
As for the growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon today, the minister fears that they are a ticking time-bomb: “These are big numbers we’re talking about. How can we continue to absorb them without any help. And this is aside from the fact that many of them present in the country today bear arms.”
Overall, Ghosn expresses his confidence in the military, insisting that nothing threatens the army’s unity. His only warning is that politicians “must understand that the current polarization cannot continue for long” without resulting in some blows to the country’s security.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.