Don’t mess with a military man

There was an ominous postscript to the attempted assassination last week of Samir Geagea, the Lebanese Forces leader. It came in the form of an alleged revelation by “a former Lebanese security official living in Paris” published in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah.
The official’s comment went like this: “The moment the attempt [on Geagea’s life] was announced, hundreds of Lebanese Forces, Kataeb Party, and National Liberal Front fighters, as well as Lebanese army backers, headed to the regions around Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Shiyyah area, the strongholds of Hezbollah and Amal.”
Both the official—in all probability Johnny Abdo, the onetime head of Lebanese military intelligence—and the outlet, Al-Seyassah, leave plenty of room for us to question the veracity of the story. But as some observers have noted, the point was not to tell the truth; it was to issue a warning. Mustapha of the Beirut Spring blog wrote an astute analysis of the episode, referring to it as “deterrence by rumor-mongering.” By cautioning Hezbollah and Amal that there could be dangerous repercussions if Geagea were harmed, Abdo and March 14 hoped to prevent further attacks against the Lebanese Forces leader. 
A rancorous mood did indeed circulate in Christian areas after the reported shooting. Had Geagea been killed, there would certainly have been hotheads willing to take matters into their own hands. The army would have been hard-pressed to restore order and ease tensions between the Lebanese Forces and the Aounists in particular, while one dreads to imagine what might have happened, let’s say, to Shia strolling through hard-core Lebanese Forces quarters. 
For many years Geagea has carefully cultivated the impression that his followers could transform themselves into an armed militia if they were provoked into doing so. While the Lebanese Forces leader has repeatedly denied that his men are undergoing military training, he has also been deliberately ambiguous about their intentions.
For instance, in February 2006 Lebanese Forces officials in Beirut warned then-Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabeh that they would take to the streets with their weapons if he did not control Sunni Islamists demonstrating against the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. They burned the Danish Embassy in the mainly Christian Ashrafieh neighborhood, and when the protest turned into a riot, the participants began harassing Christians and throwing rocks at a Maronite church.
In May 2008, when Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies overran western Beirut, there was news that the Lebanese Forces would protect Christian districts if necessary. Perhaps this was again a case of deterrence by rumor-mongering. However, in such fluid situations, organized groups tend to fill the vacuum. That’s why it’s not especially difficult to imagine that Geagea would have been prepared to deploy his men had the army failed to defend eastern Beirut in the same way that it had failed to defend western Beirut.
The capacity and willingness to wage war remains very much a part of Geagea’s aura, and that of the Lebanese Forces. Do you recall all those March 14 rallies of recent years? Whenever you saw youths dressed in combat boots and fatigues, with black tee-shirts, you could be sure that they belonged to the party. They may have been in the minority, but they also had no inhibitions about flaunting the imagery of battle.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Geagea doesn’t seek an armed confrontation, but nor is he, temperamentally, the kind of person who will shrink from playing up his warrior persona when Hezbollah has spent years doing the same. In that sense his behavior contrasts with that of Walid Jumblatt, another former warlord. For Geagea, the Lebanese political system is one of natural equilibrium: If one coalition or religious community seeks hegemony over the others, then this requires a comparable counter-reaction to impose balance.
Last week, I suggested in this space that Geagea would attempt to play the failed assassination attempt in such a way as to improve his chances of success in parliamentary elections next year. Everything suggests that he is doing so, and that he has become the driving force of March 14, in the absence of Saad Hariri, the former prime minister. An element of brinkmanship was equally evident in Geagea’s speech to his coalition partners in Maarab on Wednesday. “March 14 is in the eye of the storm,” he was quoted as saying, before sounding the martial note: “The battle that the Syrian regime and its allies are fighting is a final battle of either killing or being killed.”
The Lebanese Forces leader is not reacting spontaneously. He has something in mind, a specific agenda, and it includes definite electoral calculations burnished by a noticeable military component. That doesn’t mean Geagea plans to go to war. Rather, he is positioning himself as a Christian champion, against those other leading Christian figures, Michel Aoun and Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai above all, whom Geagea would insist have betrayed the community’s ideals and traditions while ceding vital ground, geographically and politically, to the Christians’ enemies. 
The political ambitions of Samir Geagea aside, it is disturbing when the pulsations of conflict make a comeback in Lebanon. We haven’t condemned this in Hezbollah to sanction it in the case of the Lebanese Forces. Most Lebanese still aspire to a civil order that keeps violence at bay. Maybe we’re naïve for thinking so, or soft. Or maybe we just don’t want fear to color how we vote in the coming elections. 

Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

  • hani karam

    lek ? what Lebanon are you talking about , you know the small lebanon is actually will be if not already is all the nations of this world ? the seven seals of the Bible are discribing the symptoms but it is the humen deseas they dont mention they are ( RACE RELIGION SECT CULTURE NATIONALITY FAMILYHOOD AND IDEOLOGY ) And you want to teach me about your islam , i think the muslims should go to ITALY attack the bloody VATICAN declare their calimat la ilah illa allah which is the declaration of the holy war and leave us alone but they wont because i know why but i insist that the bloody VATICAN and them should fight it out ...THE Catholic f.... church and its VATICAN are more towards islam than towards chritianity and CHRIST so they can literally go to what is coming to them all ... To the MUSLIMS do you think i do not know and to the baboon Michel Aoun are you ready with your insignificant soon to be divide stinky army that attacks its own people and cowtow to the outsider when shit h

    April 18, 2012

  • ali daoud

    nobody cares about this Geagea man, he`s trying so hard to imply he is a pro-state man, he fails most of the times, he`s only a USA puppet who does what he is asked to do using the money he gets from qatar and UAE. let he tells us first where he gets his money from and for what purpose?!!!!!! he is nothing but a convicted murderer who was tried and convicted for killing Racheed Karame and Dani Chamoun, and in case he truly believes he is innocent then he would have asked for a re-trial when M14 ruled the country between 2005 and 2010. again, we don`t take that man seriously, he is a loud voice for a failing USA.

    April 17, 2012

  • N.H

    the picture's caption is very subjective... He's not portraying himself as a hero. Do you want him to deny- out of humbleness- that he was detained for 11 years? Do you want him not to tell the public opinion that he was attempted to assassination? If that would help him in the elections, then we should say it was abt time the lebanese, especially the christians, woke up! Samir Geagea is a hero bcz in his 1st press conf following the assassination attempt, he tried to calm the LF sympathizers ana followers down, unlike how most of the other leaders would have reacted! This man is a true MAN....

    April 15, 2012

  • noname

    No one does harm to the Christians except the narrow minded people who can only see from one angle and one opinion.Those who can't, don't want or unable to analyse and differentiate between the words and the deeds.Those who follow leaders blindly with reasoning.

    April 15, 2012

  • Marco Antonio

    To posted by hasn't he... You must be talking about le petit general, the general of defeats and retreats.

    April 15, 2012

  • hmbr

    you speak of the reaction or rumor that leb forces took to the streets around dahyeh etc etc which perhaps is nothing but a rumor, as if jaja or his follwers were the real warmongers these days. short memory it seems . plus impossible mathematics. there are so many hizbos and march 8 militias armed to the eyeballs around that not even a hothead would waste effort winning this unwinnable battle at this time. i believe the rumor ,if it was a rumor , was to vent some steam and reassure the march 14 crowds that they are not fully defenseless sheep ready for the march8 /syria/iran crowd to intimidate them or kill them at will when the orders come. there is so much imbalance between the 2 opponents that it sounds ridiculous that any such endeavor would have actually taken place. but at least it is an attempt to psychologically bolster the militarily anemic march 14 which has lost half its leadership to the thuggish assassins,

    April 13, 2012