Hazem Al Amin

A Lebanese Nusra Front

Hezbollah’s inability to see the danger of the mobilization against it is both strange and worrying.

Lebanese soldier Mohammad Antar announces his defection to the Al-Nusra Front. (YouTube)
Al-Nusra Front rally in Syria. (AFP/Rami al-Sayed)

Anyone who does not see the defection of Sunni soldiers from the Lebanese army as a very dangerous sign for both the army and Lebanon is reenacting the feigned blindness the Iraqi government employed from 2011 until the Islamic State group (ISIS) occupied large swathes of the country.


Throughout that period, everyone who warned the Iraqi government and its Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that marginalizing Sunni Arabs would throw them into Al-Qaeda’s embrace was branded a traitor and accused of supporting terrorists. This continued until things went pear shaped, with ISIS seizing Mosul and most of the Anbar province. Now the extremist group is advancing on Baghdad.


Today, Hezbollah and its supporters in the March 8 coalition are repeating the Iraqi government’s head-in-the-sand practices. The party and its Free Patriotic Movement allies say what is happening is not a series of defections - the soldiers are deserting! They are unwilling to confront the implications of the phenomenon. Soldiers in the Lebanese army are leaving their units and joining the Al-Nusra Front. These are soldiers, not Salafi activists. They are Lebanese, and their families - some of whom have made public appearances calling on their sons to return - appear to be the kind of families that have a strong connection to the military profession.


The phenomenon, that is the defections, came to a head after the Al-Nusra Front carried out its operation in Brital. The group managed to gain the soldiers’ confidence and convince them they would be joining a strong force that could guarantee them shelter, protection and cover. It also convinced them that its discourse addressed them directly and matched their sectarian woes.


This is an extremely dangerous sign, for we are, it seems, facing the birth of a Lebanese Al-Nusra Front - an Al-Nusra Front that is connected to Lebanese people’s issues and actively participates in their sectarian struggles. While it is true that we are still at the beginning, and only five soldiers have defected so far, enrollment into Al-Nusra and similar groups follows a mathematical sequence. One soldier is followed by two, then four, then eight. With each of the group’s “achievements” its attractiveness multiplies.


Yes, a Lebanese Al-Nusra Front. Clearly, failure to address the “Sunni wound” has created a vacuum. It is also clear that Al-Nusra wishes to fill this vacuum and is making a noticeable advance towards doing so. A short visit to Tripoli and Sidon will give you a feeling of how far Al-Nusra has made its way in to the minds of young men and boys in those areas. ISIS may be a subject people there differ on, but Al-Nusra is increasingly seen as the one striking force that can be depended on to confront Hezbollah. Whether the party wishes to see this or not, it is a fact, and failing to deal with it would be akin to fleeing from reality. The video Al-Nusra distributed, showing its takeover of Hezbollah’s post in Brital, is now stored on mobile phones belonging to thousands of young boys, and the usual ringtones have been replaced by the voice of a Hezbollah fighter taken hostage by the Free Syrian Army.


The FPM said the soldiers were not defectors - they were deserters and the army was bigger than them. The Future Movement condemned attempts to portray the Sunni community as a protective environment for extremist groups. The reaction of the former comes from a desire to use the defections to stir up bitter sectarian feelings. The reaction of the latter comes from the lack of any ability to resolve the situation. However, it is Hezbollah’s inability to see the danger of the mobilization against it that is both strange and worrying. The same applies to the party’s failure to take any initiatives outside the security arena, in view of the counteractive results such initiatives produce. That is, of course, if it is bearing the future of the community it represents in mind.


Personally, if I was in Hezbollah’s position and I had a few minutes to think things over, I would not hesitate to recruit Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri by making him an enticing offer. I would take responsibility for his safety and perhaps finance his electoral campaigns despite the bitter rivalry.


This is precisely what Nouri al-Maliki failed to do. In fact he did the very opposite for three years, and ISIS began its march in Iraq.


This article has been translated from the original Arabic.

Lebanese soldier Mohammad Antar announces his defection to the Al-Nusra Front. (YouTube)

Al-Nusra is increasingly seen as the one striking force that can be depended on to confront Hezbollah.

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Sunni soldiers defected too back in the 1970s, creating the Arab Army of Lebanon under the seditious Lieutenant Ahmad Al-Khatib, one of the Syrian regime's many tools to undermine Lebanon and the State. There was no Al-Nusra back then, but there was a PLO and its affiliate criminal enterprises. There was no Islamic ideology to be used as a pretext, but there was an Arabist ideology used as pretext to sap the foundations of the Lebanese entity. Back then, the "objectives" were to defeat what they called "political Maronitism", fight the Zionist enemy, and liberate Palestine over Lebanese blood. Today the objectives are to defeat "political Shiism", fight the Persian enemy Iran, and, still, liberate Palestine over Lebanese blood. Not to forget that the Shiites too want to defeat "political Sunnism", fight the takfiri Saudi Arabia, and also liberate Palestine over Lebanese blood. It never ends, it seems, with Arabs and Muslims. So many causes, all divinely-inspired of course, and yet no one ever seems to win anything. The only common denominator is self-destruction and the impoverishment and torment of the very same people all these causes claim to want to liberate and help. Lebanon has been paying the price of this filth for decades.

    October 16, 2014

  • Beiruti

    Great post Hanibaal. The Lebanese at both the micro and macro level have this predisposition toward division, confrontation and self destruction. It happened inside of families, between members of the same village, within the confessional groups and with the nation at large. Lebanon is easily divided against itself by outsiders simply exploiting the divisions that already exist. With most people, it's "me against my brother, me and my brother against by cousin, but me and my brother and my cousin against the stranger". With the Lebanese, it's "me against my brother, and we will bid to get the stranger to assist us against our brother." We are stuck in fratricide mode and have been there since before April 1975. Most have learned the lesson, but a remnant remains like a virus ready to reinfect the whole body politic.

    October 18, 2014