Many Lebanese will no doubt have been concerned by reports of continued violence along their country’s frontier with Syria, especially in light of reports that on Thursday at least five families from the Bekaa village of Joura were getting ready to leave in the face of increasing violence from the Syrian side of the fence.
The state should also tell us where it stands on the issues of territorial integrity. President Michel Sleiman has said that he “will not tolerate any incursions.” This is encouraging, but talk has always been cheap. And as the conflict in Syria morphs from civil disobedience into repression into civil war, more than ever it is incumbent upon the Lebanese state to ensure that our normally porous border with our neighbor be shored up to make sure that Lebanon’s sovereignty and security not be compromised.
But sovereignty and security are moveable feasts in Lebanon. Hezbollah, for example, will boast of its proud tradition of shedding blood to protect its land from foreign aggression. Indeed, as far as the Party of God is concerned, the battle to free Lebanon from Israeli occupation will not end until the Shebaa Farms is liberated. The disputed area is deemed so important to Lebanon’s dignity that Lebanon is apparently ready to endure international approbation for its stubbornness. But that’s how principled we Lebanese are when it comes to protecting our territorial integrity.
Then again, it is strange that the same principled government can adopt such a chilled-out reaction to violence in a border region where Syrian troops can apparently come and go as they wish in their pursuit of rebels and brigands.
There are the issues of security. The Lebanese people, as part of a basic quid pro quo stretching back to the days of Plato, expect a minimum degree of protection. But it appears just how much security we can expect depends on where we live. The South, for example, resembles the Maginot Line. And if so much as one Israeli boot sets foot on Lebanese soil, the residents of the region can be assured of the most vigorous response. In fact, so dedicated is the Party of God to ensuring that the southern border region remains inviolate that it has even shot at (and killed, in the case of Lieutenant Samer Hanna) Lebanese soldiers who have strayed into the area without permission. But better to be safe than sorry, right?
No such stringency exists on the borders with Syria, where gun-running activity, the ebb and flow of refugees and the ongoing conflict carries on unabated and threatens to spill over into Lebanon. Surely, the security forces should ensure that border control is a two-way process.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday it was reported by Al-Jumhuriya that the Lebanese army arrested ten men – six Syrians and four Lebanese – on possession of two trucks loaded with heavy weapons, also in Joura. The authorities are to be applauded for their hard work. Lebanon should not be a conduit for arms trafficking, while it goes without saying that armed men running around the country willy-nilly are a threat to national security and the safety of the general population.
We just hope that the government embraces this new and encouraging trend and clamps down on all those who carry weapons outside the law, be they Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian, Palestinian or anyone else for that matter. Heaven forbid that the state stand accused of exercising double standards.
But as we have heard, President Sleiman has promised to not let us down. So let’s just wait and see.