ISIS poses serious threat to Lebanon

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An image made available by Jihadist media outlet al-Itisam Media on June 29, 2014, allegedly shows members of the IS (Islamic state) including military leader and Georgian native, Abu Omar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) (C-L) and ISIL sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Adnani (C-R), whose picture was blurred from the source to protect his identity, speaking at an unknown location between the Iraqi Nineveh province and the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah. (Photo: AFP-al-Itisam Media)

By: Jean Aziz

Published Thursday, July 10, 2014

An ISIS invasion of Lebanon, along the lines of what [ISIS head] Baghdadi's fighters did in northwest Iraq, is a possibility. In fact, an actual invasion is still an imminent threat. This was revealed in a detailed report received by a major political faction involved in the current situation. The disturbing report begins by pointing out the many tools of instability that ISIS could employ in the country. Most of them are well known, including the possibility of bringing suicide bombers to target politicians, the use of ISIS sleeper cells, and exploiting some specific areas in some Palestinian or Syrian refugee camps. However, all the above is merely a deception to hide the true threat that ISIS poses to Lebanon.

All the above scenarios are a distraction from the focus on ISIS’ real power, the primary threat it poses, and the actual direction of an attack. The report maintains there is a serious and realistic possibility of ISIS invading Lebanon from al-Qalamoun mountains, specifically the western slope of the eastern mountain range between Lebanon and Syria. The report then explains the situation in the region, providing the following information:

First, a large force composed of various nationalities is gathering in the mountainous regions. They are the remnants of all the lost battles of the various Syrian opposition groups over the last year and a half. The areas became a refuge for the defeated in al-Qusayr and the battles around Homs, then the battles of Yabrud, and the operations to cleanse wide areas of Syria, from Nabak to Qalamoun, from armed pockets.

Second, the official sources behind the aforementioned report estimate their number at 3,500 gunmen. It could increase to 5,000 if ISIS calls for mobilization or in the event of launching an attack, with the promises of victory, conquest, and spoils.

Third, the report speculates that the majority of these gunmen pledged allegiance to ISIS following the recent events in Iraq. Those who haven't are expected to do so when the invasion begins.

Fourth, the militants are holed up in rugged and harsh terrain and control a mountainous strip, no less than 70 kilometers wide. They benefit from natural caves and tunnels dug in the past three years, which makes the region even more difficult and impossible to reach.

Fifth, they have a huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition. Nearby villages and towns provide them with supplies, usually on the backs of animals, without any human companion. A few weeks ago, an important portion of the aid sent to the Lebanese village of al-Tufail fell into the hands of those gunmen. This led to the end of the operation, without considering action to resolve the situation in Tufail.

Sixth, some facts on the ground in the region and surrounding areas maintain that the gunmen benefit from services by Lebanese and Syrians living in the area. This could be for political reasons or bribes by the gunmen. This became apparent, according to the report, through the recent abduction of several Lebanese and Syrians. The details of the operation, the release of some kidnappees and keeping others, their transportation, and other information from the ground could not have occurred without the collaboration of locals.

Seventh, and most crucially, given the opportunity, the large ISIS army is capable of launching a full scale attack on Lebanese territories from the mountainside across from Ersal. An attack of this kind would be possible under the cover of several attacks around the country or suicide bombings against key Lebanese military and security targets. This could take the form of attempts on the lives of major Lebanese figures, the military deployment of sleeper ISIS cells in some strategic areas inside the country, and, finally, through coordinating in some environments that are sympathetic [to ISIS], either in Palestinian camps or gatherings of Syrian refugees in some sensitive areas.

This scenario is not imaginary; there is a serious possibility of a threat, according to the report. But how did Lebanese authorities, on the other side, deal with this information?

The report adds that the situation is difficult and complicated to begin with and does not fall short of the tensions in Lebanon. It requires national consensus and major political decisions to deter the imminent threat or reduce it at the very least. In this context, the report indicates the Lebanese military forces are inspecting the situation in the area in order to have a better understanding of the reality on the ground and to assess the threat. Around one week ago, the Lebanese military tried to test the waters even further, by sending an armed patrol deep into the areas east of Ersal. The reply came through heavy gunfire from the other side; warning shots of a possible confrontation before the situation inside Lebanon becomes ripe.

The report indicates that opening the battle on that front, in a conclusive and final manner, has several prerequisites. First, it needs a Lebanese force comprised of no less than three brigades, reinforced by special assault forces. Second, there needs to be a clear and complete field coordination with Hezbollah, on one hand, and Syrian authorities, on the other. Third, Lebanon needs to reach a decision, on the popular and official levels, which would be inclusive and gives full cover to the decision to go to battle. Fourth, coordination with foreign powers involved in the crisis in the region to create an international umbrella for the major, dangerous, and direct war against an ISIS army no smaller than the one which invaded northern Iraq and is the subject of a global coalition, which is currently being created.

In the absence of such a radical decision, information obtained by the political faction that received the report, indicates that Lebanese authorities are dealing with the ISIS detachment at the gates indirectly. It created a partial and loose barrier to the west and allows sporadic air raids by the Syrian army, whenever there is a clear movement of gunmen or supplies.

The same information maintains that all the Lebanese political forces silently agree on those raids. In the latest cabinet session, a local investor politician tried to raise the issue of the Syrian air raids on those areas, requesting that the Lebanese government send a complaint against Damascus to the UN Security Council. He was asked to provide evidence that the raids occurred inside Lebanese territories to finalize the complaint. The person who raised the question remained silent and the issue was closed. This revealed that everyone understands the risks and the need to coordinate with Damascus, in addition to the impotence of official Lebanon.

In conclusion, the ISIS invasion is not a mere scarecrow. It is a clear and imminent threat, across from Ersal to be exact.

Follow Jean Aziz on Twitter: @JeanAziz1

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Interesting article and Informative. If I keep praising It,some will automated reflex boo It.
So what are the options as stated? roll over and play "dead" and hope for a miracle,or take the Initiative and make ISIS believe that Lebanon Is serious about Its sovereignty?ISIS are clear what they exist for-rid off the Shi'ia/Alawi'is and then take care of the rest-Christian and Druze,pillage your homes,abuse your wives and daughters and top It with an orgy of blood bath.All In the name of and the glory of "god".
There Is no room for dialog with someone who Is twisted on destroying you.{see Israel?Hamas}

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