The militant bogeymen in the hills: all bark, no bite

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A photo from September 2014 shows unidentified gunmen blocking a road in the Lebanese border town of Ersal. Al-Akhbar / Rameh Hamieh

Published Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The militants holed up in the barren hills and wilderness near Ersal are all bark and no bite. Their threats and intimidations have never materialized. They are little more than ‘sound grenades’ that detonate on social media, but with no effect on the ground.

Yabroud, Syria– “The battle will come to the heart of Lebanon.” “If Hezbollah does not withdraw from Syria, we will do this and that.” “Our mujahideen’s bombs will strike in the heart of Dahiyeh.”

At first glance, following the series of terrorist bombings that struck Beirut’s southern suburb, a person hearing those threats will believe that the Lebanese are on the verge of a major disaster akin to the one that took place in Mosul, which fell within hours to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. But the large number of threats and grandiose statements, without any actions to match them, have turned the leaders of these jihadist groups into caricatures.

At the beginning of August, the al-Nusra Front announced the start of a battle to “liberate” Qalamoun. A month earlier, on July 2, Nusra Front emir Abu Malek al-Talli had threatened Lebanon with “thousands of fighters who have infiltrated all security measures” and have allegedly deployed across the Lebanese territory, awaiting the zero hour.

On September 22, the emir of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Sirajuddin Zureikat, declared, “The mujahideen took Iraq in a matter of days, and in a matter of days they can be in the center of Beirut.”

The three jihadist groups closed ranks, vowing to take the battle to the heart of Beirut. The threats against their declared common enemy – the ‘crusader’ army, i.e. the Lebanese army, and the ‘Iranian’ Hezbollah – never stopped. Despite their vociferous campaign in the media, there was only one solitary attack on Lebanese ground, which took place in Brital, and claimed the lives of 11 Lebanese, in addition to one Hezbollah fighter captured in Assal al-Ward.

That was the peak, and nothing else happened afterwards. The threats increased and successive statements promised that this was “only the beginning.” The jihadists also came up with the slogan, “Who will pay the price?”

Yet in the end, the militants of al-Nusra Front and ISIS found no one to torment but the kidnapped soldiers they are holding hostage, or helpless Syrian refugees whom they accused of collaborating with Hezbollah, and have executed in cold blood.

In parallel, their leaders fell one after the other. After Omar al-Atrash, a terrorist fixer, and Naim Abbas, an explosives expert, were arrested, these groups lost all operational capability. Yet most of the operations they had carried out in Lebanon, which were planned by Atrash and Abbas, were rather amateurish. Apart from that, and the short-lived attack on Ersal a few months ago, the jihadists could not do more than make a few ripples in the media.

All security information indicates these groups had lost the backbone of their terrorist operations in Lebanon. The situation for the jihadists is not much better in the mountainous border regions either, where they are holed up in caves and rely on the town of Ersal for supplies.

True, sources in the ranks of the armed groups agree with army sources in that the militants have some advantages. For instance, the fortifications and caves they are hiding in protect them from aerial and rocket bombardment. The rugged mountainous terrain, and the snowy conditions this time of year render an advance by the military force toward the militants’ positions almost impossible.

In addition, the militants have strong bargaining chips they can use whenever they need to. However, on the ground, reconnaissance and tracking efforts and informants’ tip-offs can create opportunities to locate and target their leaders.

Concerning the ability of the militants to carry out large-scale operations that would allow them to raid Lebanese villages, sources say such a scenario, in light of security readiness along the Lebanese border, has become nearly impossible. In addition, the sources say if these groups thought they were able to achieve something similar, they would not have hesitated for a moment to carry out their plans.

Concerning the coming period, military sources say the status quo will be maintained for the coming months since the Syrian army has yet to decide to clear the militants from the wilderness regions of the Qalamoun Mountains.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


This is not because the Jihadi wahhabis didn't try, but due to the vigilance of the LAF and Hez tireless efforts.

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