Last year around this time, I spent an afternoon imagining what a worst-case scenario would look like for Lebanon in 2014. Here’s an excerpt to jog your memory:
“As the year draws to a close, Lebanon exists in a state of low-intensity civil war. The Army has begun to fracture along sectarian lines. Saudi-bought French weaponry begins to arrive, but the army’s arsenals are raided by militia groups, and sophisticated bomb jamming devices begin appearing on the tops of warlord convoys in the refugee camps. Hizbullah fears it is over-committed in Syria so Iran sends IRGC special-ops groups to man command stations in case of an Israeli attack, which looks increasingly likely as Abdullah Azzam Brigade rocket attacks into northern Israel become a weekly occurrence. The refugee crisis grows worse by the day. The borders are un-policeable. The economy is in free fall. Even Skybar has to initiate an evening happy hour to attract weekend revelers…”
The purpose of the exercise was to ward off the demons by naming them. In that respect, it seems to have worked. So how did Lebanon do in 2014? Pretty well, considering just how terrible a year it could have been. Let’s review.
In 2014, Lebanon’s worst-case scenario begins with a sequence of car bombs targeting various mosques, embassies, and party headquarters in al-Dahiya, Tripoli, Sidon, and downtown Beirut. The tit-for-tat bombings rapidly become more brazen and spectacular, going after busy residential and commercial areas…
We’ve seen a few of these types of attacks, but nothing like the explosions in al-Dahiya on January 2, 2014. The coordination between the Lebanese Army, the Internal Security Forces, the Directorate of General Security, and Hizbullah intelligence has led to a string of much-publicized sting operations and foiled bomb plots. It’s no Beirut Yard, of course, but those were the good old days.
Strained to capacity, the Lebanese Army stands by as Hizbullah re-establishes its security cordon in South Beirut and various Sunni “neighborhood watches” take control of large swaths of Tripoli. Salafist suspects are arrested and a prison riot at Roumieh results in the deaths of a dozen security guards and a near jail break.
Here the picture is cloudier. The Lebanese Army has taken control of Hizbullah’s security cordon in South Beirut, but Tripoli remains a mess. Roumieh Prison is teeming with radical Islamists, and riots are rampant. The ISF put one down just a few days ago.
So far, no prisoners have been released in exchange for the Lebanese Army soldiers kidnapped in the Bekaa, and those negotiations have gone nowhere. Judging by how long it took to get the Turkish pilots released, those soldiers could spend all of 2015 in captivity…
Hizbullah’s mood remains defiant as the party doubles down on its commitment in Syria, cycling hundreds of fighters in and out each month. Nasrallah continue to speak of an existential struggle in Syria, while hinting darkly at the consequences of forming a government without his party’s involvement. Roads to ruin, gates of hell, you get the idea…
I have not seen any solid figures on how many fighters Hizbullah has committed to the Syrian conflict or how many casualties it has taken. Everything one reads in the press is based on innuendo. If someone knows of a solid study, please post it in the comment section.
Yes, Nasrallah continues to speak of an existential struggle in Syria, but there are no more warnings against forming a government, because the Future Movement does not seem to have much interest in pushing that file forward for the time being. (More on that topic later this week…)
Meanwhile, the UN prosecutors for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon begin presenting their case against Hizbullah. Each day, the M14 press reports on a new batch of evidence linking Mr. Ayyash and co. to the Hariri assassination. The M8 media yawns and dismisses the spectacle as an Israeli pantomime for external consumption…
The pro-Hizbullah outlets are not the only ones yawning; in fact, they seem to be the most interested in the trial. Everyone else couldn’t really give a damn. Nothing new has been unveiled; Marwan Hamadeh and Walid Jumblatt gave us the same talking points that Detlev Mehlis quoted ten years ago. Maybe by this time next year we’ll hear about the red network…
Tens of thousands of civilians flee across Syria’s borders each week. The refugees in Lebanon now amount to a third of the country’s population. There are more destitute Aleppan Sunnis living in refugee camps than there are Lebanese Druzes, Alawites, Evangelicals, Protestants, and Roman Catholics combined.
Yes. This is true. It is heartbreaking. The only consolation is that the camps have not yet begun to spawn militias, but if the conflict drags on, that will change.
On balance, then, 2014 could have been much, much worse. The Mustaqbal-Hizbullah dialogue, the inter-agency intelligence coordination, and the national support for the Army have conspired to keep a lid on things, despite the havoc wrought by ISIS in other parts of the Levant.
Happy New Year.