Lebanon, Syria

Choices, choices…

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman just returned from a productive trip to Russia. Apparently, he modified Lebanon’s earlier request for a fleet of MiG-29’s, replacing them with an order for several Mi-24 attack helicopter gunships. A sensible idea, to my mind, given the fact that a MiG-29 can fly the length of Lebanon in 6 minutes, whereas a Mi-24 can actually be used for something relevant to Lebanon’s security needs. See here for a history of the Mi-24’s combat history; the closest American-made equivalent would probably be the UH-60 Blackhawk.

And speaking of the U.S., the Pentagon is planning to outfit the Lebanese Air Force with Hawker-Beechcraft AT-6’s (see above left). Don’t sneer.

Also, I recommend this piece by Mitch Prothero in The National, about the infamous Hezbollah helicopter shooting incident. Apparently, the accident was the result of an ignored warning by the Lebanese Army. Here’s an excerpt, but be sure to read the whole thing.

The army officer also blamed the army’s lack of proper communications equipment.

“We aren’t sophisticated enough on the subtle things, like secure communications lines. Hizbollah has a secure fibre optic network connecting all its major bases. We have telephones. During the [2008] siege of Nahr Bared [refugee camp], we realised that most of our guys were using mobile phones to plan military operations.”

Mr Goksel agrees, arguing that even if given the proper information, a Lebanese soldier might face a choice between relaying the important information over an unsecure line, almost certainly monitored by the Israelis, and doing nothing at all.

“Imagine a young officer learns that Hizbollah says to stay away from a field because they have intelligence that Israel might attack it,” he said. “If that officer only has a telephone that everyone knows the Israelis closely monitor, he’d be committing treason to call his headquarters in Beirut to warn them that Hizbollah thinks an Israeli attack could be coming and to get rid of the choppers. Imagine that choice?”

Finally, Joshua Landis has an interesting round-up of the fall-out of Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah’s meeting with Bashar al-Asad in Damascus.

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20 thoughts on “Choices, choices…

  1. A good post. And while I think that chopers can be a good idea, military ones seem like a bad one for the very reason you point out: Israel has better ones and more.

    That is why it will better to get logistical choppers; much of Lebanon lives in some kind of crisis wake and perhaps soon all of it will. When Israel hits bridges, choppers can help.

    It is just important to realize that the LDF with choppers with whatever cals on them isn’t going to stop Israel.

    Good post.

    Posted by Col. Aiz | February 27, 2010, 3:09 pm
  2. The Mi-24 is a better choice than the MIG-29. Another desirable option is to also outfit these helos with the capability of fighting forest fires if it can be done.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 27, 2010, 3:14 pm
  3. I do not think that there was a single good reason to acquire Mig 29’s; for Lebanon; not one. I do hope that the decision to get MI25’s is based on actual studies that show conclusively the need for these helicopters. The skeptic in me does not believe that Lebanon needs currently more than a personnel transport helicopter that is lightly armed. If one is to be totally objective , which is difficult to accomplish in the current environment; then one will have to conclude that the LAF are actually an internal police force and as such they need training, maneuverability and communication equipment.
    Then there is the cost, is Lebanon in a position to spend the large sum of money that is required for training, armaments and infrastructure just as a bragging right?
    I do hope that this does not metamorphose into a decision with a life of its own whereby the LAF will feel bound to upgrade this equipment every cycle and spend its meager resources on a “show piece” that is nether within our budget nor do we really need it.
    Nonetheless one must be at times willing to bite the bullet so to speak. It sure is less irrartional than MIG 29’s.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 27, 2010, 4:20 pm
  4. Great post! This is exactly the reason why I love this blog!

    Posted by Luke | February 28, 2010, 4:57 am
  5. Thanks Qifa for the good post and the link to the National article. I’m glad someone is still following up this issue.

    I am not opposed to the resistance. I do believe Lebanon is in need of it in some form or another. However I like to call a spade a spade. I think there is another money quote in the article you linked in the National.

    “Hizbollah sent repeated messages to the LAF high command warning them not to use that area of south Lebanon for training because it was close to a sensitive command centre used by the group,” according to one high-ranking Lebanese officer, who under Lebanese law cannot allow his name to be used. “After three warnings were ignored – the people who received the information did not act to get it into the hands of the officers who needed to know that area was off limits – a completely avoidable incident tragically took the life of an army officer.”

    What right does the hizb have to claim any territory ‘off-limits’ to the LAF?

    And for those that want to argue for the Hizb’s right please explain, why don’t I have the right to claim territory ‘off limits’ to the state and its institutions? I too am a resistance commander. I resist the Syrian occupation and its return to Lebanon.

    That said, I’m glad the hizb is allowing the prosecution of the “The boy”. I’m sure other parties would have just had it covered up, which is why I respect the hizb more than any of the other parties in this country.

    Posted by Johnny | March 1, 2010, 7:36 am
  6. Johnny,

    If you were part of a resistence movement that could do a better job of protecting Lebanon, whether from Syria or anyone else, with a popular support fighting a superior occupation army, and if secrecy and sensitivity of info was vital for your success, if you meet those criteria, then I for one would say you have a right to keeping those sensitive areas “off limits”.

    Posted by mo | March 1, 2010, 8:53 am
  7. Well mo, your post immediately begs the question: Who gets to decide? Honestly, with no one-up-manship, who gets to decide which militia (no shame in using that term) gets to decide on zones which are off limits to the official defense forces of the state? Are there any limits to this prerogative? If so, who sets them? Do they change according to recent developments? Then what’s the official mechanism for changing them?

    Posted by Gobbeltygook | March 1, 2010, 9:26 am
  8. Gobbeltygook,
    The whos hows and wheres are going to be pretty much down to circumstances – Johnny was I presume talking hypothetically since I don’t know of any military resistance to Syria that he could be a commander of and I don’t see the Syrian Army coming back any time soon.

    So, in trying to keep everything ambiguous because I think QN is one Hizballah thread away from asking me to never darken his blog again, I will say htis.

    My point is that if there is a threat to the nation and you are able to stand up to that external threat, militarily, be it a southern threat or eastern threat, better than the state can then you are entitled to some level of support from the state if only by allowing you to keep sensitive areas away from prying eyes (On re-reading that line, i realise how suggestive it is, but you know what i mean!).

    Ideally, everything should be decided in accordance with the state and if not the state then the military but even then that is not possible. So at the end it will be up to the “militia” to decide. Hopefully, that militia’s sucess will be based on popular support and will not abuse that position.

    Posted by mo | March 1, 2010, 10:00 am
  9. “then the military but even then that is not possible”

    Should have read:

    “then the military but even then that is not always possible”

    Posted by mo | March 1, 2010, 11:41 am
  10. Mo,
    We have been down this road before. You cannot pretend to want a rule of law and yet allow vigilantes just because you don’t like the Sheriff. Such a prescribed cure would be worse than the disease . It would be much better not to open Pandora’s box.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | March 1, 2010, 12:00 pm
  11. mo,
    You couldn’t have expressed the helplessness most Lebanese feel towards the situation: “[Hopefully] and will not abuse that position”.

    So our best bet is to hope that the ‘militia’ doesn’t spread its hegemony all over the institutions. So now we are in a situation where instead of institutions and some sort of process – not necessarily democratic – we rely on hope (the ancient Greeks considered hope as a vice).

    It’s futile to ask how they can declare certain areas off-limits. After last weeks tripartite Damascus summit, not only foreign policy is off-limits, but also the the Presidency and the premiership.
    What’s left of the Lebanese state (if ever there has been one)?

    Posted by XP | March 1, 2010, 12:00 pm
  12. I think Nasrallah made a serious mistake showing up as the third leg of the “Resistance Triumvirate” in Damascus last week. He put himself on par to a head of state. He should have taken some fig leaf like Sleiman. It seems though that he feels he does not need even to be hypocritical about how he views the power standings. I wonder why now. Perhaps the Iranians feel pressured (because of internal and external issues) and are pressuring Hezbollah and Syria.

    The Syrians, Iranians and Hezbollah have clearly told Lebanon and the Lebanese that Lebanon is a Bantustan without any ability to determine its own foreign policy.

    By the way, that has been the working premise of Israel all along. Does any one out there still believe Hezbollah is in the process of blending into Lebanese politics and becoming just one of many political parties? If yes, I have a couple of great bridges to sell you. One even connects lower Manhattan to Brooklyn.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2010, 12:35 pm
  13. Well mo, that’s exactly it, all you can do is hope, as neither I nor you have any say in the matter. And that is the crux of the issue. The reason the state normally holds the monopoly of legitimate violence is because it is accountable to you and I (I realise how idealistic that sounds, but even in the decrepit shambles of the Lebanese administration, that’s a whole lot better that hoping).

    Ragarding the National article, the tone betrays just how woefully we’re off the mark. Its assumption is that since the Lebanese Army was told by an armed group it should stay clear of a certain area, the responsibility of the death of an airman shot down while exercising his duty rests on the Army. Do you realise how ludicrous that is?

    Even if you unconditionally grant Hezbollah the prerogative to arbitrarily cut off certain areas from the State’s reach, the article should have should have raised the exact opposite question: what did Hezbollah, knowing that a Lebanese Army helicopter was repeatedly seen in a certain area close to their guard posts, do to alert their men on the ground of precautions that should be taken? How does this affect the much-vaunted cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army?

    There are lots of other issues that are really shady in this story. The official story that it was supposed to be a warning shot, but the armor plating on the helicopter was too thin are equally cock-eyed. Warning shots directed AT the intended vehicles are completely unheard of and if the “kid” did suspect an Israeli plane that could withstand his “warning shot” why not hit it with something heavier? Was he trying to get a message across to the Army? Was he simply nervous and unfit for duty? How far up his chain of command did the decision to fire go?

    All questions that would make the difference between malicious foul-play, criminal negligence or just a blameless accident. Unfortunately, we will never get answers to these questions as Hezbollah’s actions aren’t subject to scrutiny by a military court. And that is the difference between a militia and an army, and between accountability and hope.

    Posted by Gobbeltygook | March 1, 2010, 12:42 pm
  14. Actually, it seems that quite a few FPMers were put off by Nasrallah’s visit to Damascus, for the same reasons as AIG.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2010, 1:02 pm
  15. Well yes guys, the nature of a resistance movement is one of independence and mostly, unaccountability. That is sorta one of the main differences between a resistance and an army.

    But if the actions are totally unaccountable, what do you believe the article is refering to with the word tribunal?

    And so yes, you gotta hope. And judge by actions.

    But no resistance movement has ever succeded without the support of its contituents.

    “it seems that quite a few FPMers were put off by Nasrallah’s visit to Damascus, for the same reasons as AIG.”

    Erm, straw poll QN, how many Lebanese leaders that could have realistically acted as a “fig leaf” would have wanted to appear in the same photo as them in the world press? Lets face it, that was some serious street cred in that picture…:)

    Posted by mo | March 1, 2010, 1:23 pm
  16. Mo

    I don’t get your point.

    The FPMers who were uncomfortable with the visit didn’t wish that Sleiman went along. They were offended by Nasrallah appearing as the representative of Lebanese foreign policy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2010, 1:28 pm
  17. My mistake, I misunderstood what u meant by “for the same reasons as AIG.”

    Ok I understand that but with Ahmadinijad in Syria, Lebanon would have been high on the agenda. Isn’t it better that someone was there representing Lebanon? Or to put it another way, if there was no one from Lebanon there the complaint would be why not?

    And so back to square one. Who of any consequence would be willing to endanger his or her relationship with the west and political future to appear with those two?

    Posted by mo | March 1, 2010, 4:27 pm
  18. If Sleiman were invited, he would have gone and it would not have spoiled any relations with the West. The US is not against dialog with Syria and Iran. The meeting is not the problem. What you say at the meeting may be.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2010, 4:33 pm
  19. Could I take the discussion back to the airplanes?
    I have read a few items that Iraq is equipping some small planes ( Just like the Cessnas) with very sophisticated new electronic that are very effective in surveillance and even guided weapons relatively inexpensively. This has become possible as a result of the miniaturization of sophisticated radars, lasers etc…Is any of the readers qualified to make some remarks on this matter?

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 1, 2010, 6:15 pm
  20. The discussion of legitimacy is a little stranger in Lebanon then anywhere else. Legitimate by what standard? Every voice seems to be appealing to a different one.

    There is nothing strange about that. In every country, there is a different standard you can appeal to backed by some way of enforcing it. Hezballah has a slice of Lebanon’s authority for the same reason that Lebanon’s government or most any government has a slice of it: force, persuasion, money, popular support, international recognition etc. etc. It uses this to impose domestic and foreign policy. It’s the same game in a multi-player variety.

    This has a strange relationship to the airplane discussion: What the Lebanese military’s job? Doesn’t seem to be any agreement on that either. In fact, there seem to be very opposing views.

    QN mentions “Lebanon’s security needs.” Defining those is the interesting excercise. Choosing planes is trivial by comparison. Am I missing something?

    Posted by netsp | March 1, 2010, 9:48 pm

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