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Fidaa Itani

Failed states kill their soldiers

Once again, Lebanon has refused to take control of its own decisions on negotiations and the exchange of prisoners.

A relative holds a portrait of a detained Lebanese soldier during a demonstration to ask for the release of soldiers and policemen being held hostage by jihadists on December 14, 2014 in Beirut. (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

Our Prime Minister Tammam Salam said that no one will be appointed to negotiate the release of the Lebanese servicemen who have been held hostage by the Islamic State group (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front for four months. He said that anyone who takes initiative to provide help on a humanitarian basis deserves to be thanked, but that no one will be officially appointed.

 

This statement, given in Paris where the Prime Minister was on a formal visit, was enough to cripple the recent initiative by the Muslim Scholars Committee. The Committee, which comprises several Salafist religious figures, had tried to reopen negotiations so that the captive servicemen could be released. Now negotiations with the kidnappers are back to square one.

 

Information Minister Ramzi Joreige has asked the media not to publish any details about the negotiations, and has called for the professional standards applied to similar cases in the West to be observed by the local press.

 

The Lebanese Armed Forces Command has also appealed to the media not to publish any information on the dossier. This comes after the Ministry of Information threatened to prosecute anyone who does not follow Joreige’s instructions. Violators will receive charges ranging as far as “weakening national sentiment,” which is already frail in comparison with sectarian sentiment for most of the Lebanese populace.

 

For the moment, the number of Lebanese Hezbollah supporters participating in the ongoing war in Syria continues to rise. So far, it has reached 100,000. They go to Syria and come back, then others follow. The only change to the picture in Syria, and the dangerous and fragile situation along the border, has been the increased number of threats made by ISIS and the Nusra Front against Lebanon, and direct combat operations on Lebanese territory.

 

For its part, the crisis cell has made no headway in the negotiations for the servicemen’s release. Instead, it has been going round in circles. Most parties are not against the Muslim Scholars Committee participating in the negotiations. The only opposition has come from the Kataeb Party and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by Michel Aoun. But the crisis cell isn’t bound by the approval of its members alone. External viewpoints also reach it, praising one thing and censuring another. This may explain why the committee of Islamist character hasn’t been formally appointed to negotiate the dossier.

 

As far as the FPM and the Kataeb Party are concerned, negotiation and prisoner swapping would damage the standing of the Lebanese state, but recent events have already caused our institutions to lose face. The way the Army fell apart in the battle of Arsal in August last year, and the shelling, sniping and daily Syrian air raids on Lebanese territory over the past two years have all contributed. The Lebanese citizens who are killed from time to time by these air raids are buried amid official silence, and the media pays no attention. Where was the standing of the state when Lebanon began taking women hostage to negotiate with or put pressure on their husbands? The state wasn’t listening when certain top civil servants threatened to respond vengefully, execution-for-execution, in a show of complete disregard for the law, the constitution, human rights and the international treaties to which Lebanon is bound.

 

Once again, Lebanon has refused to take control of its own decisions on negotiations and the exchange of prisoners. Officials have decided to choose the worst offer made by the captors: the release of five male inmates from Roumieh Prison and 50 female inmates from Syrian prisons for each captive serviceman — we are going to ask the Syrian regime (which we have taken a neutral stance towards as it wages war against its own people) to release 1,200 inmates from its prisons. On top of this, we will release around 120 inmates from Lebanese prisons, and we won’t have to make any commitments to the Syrian regime. At least that’s what the officials are trying to convince us.

 

Amid all this hesitation and inconsistency the Nusra Front has taken the country hostage, playing on the nerves of the Lebanese people and raising the level of mutual hatred between the Lebanese sects, as well as between Lebanese nationals and Syrians. First the jihadist group announces that it will kill a hostage, and then it delays the execution and demands that the families of the hostages demonstrate and block roads. Then it announces that it will negotiate and proposes numbers for negotiation. It announces that it trusts one party and refuses to negotiate with another. The negotiator commissioned by Qatar withdraws from the negotiations because they aren’t serious enough. ISIS and the Nusra Front make new threats and then kill another serviceman. While this was happening, our government and security services looked on as Hezbollah negotiated a swap deal for one of its fighters in Syria in a relatively short amount of time, and they didn’t comment.

 

Before this, the government listened as Hezbollah called for negotiations from a position of strength. Then Hezbollah’s voice dropped and the voice of its Christian ally rose. After that matters faltered dismally. As one false step follows another in the process to draw up a framework for negotiations that haven’t even started, the number of Syrians detained by the Lebanese security services is increasing. Most of them are held for a few days or weeks, during which they get a taste of the Lebanese state’s kind hospitality, before being released without any charges or misdemeanors issued against them. The number of detentions in the last four months was more than 6,000. Over 90% of them were released.

 

Finally, before negotiations have even begun, the LAF is carrying out what they call preemptive operations; shelling the hills around Arsal and laying siege to the area. Residents say that it is a siege of the town, which was transformed by the Syrian refugee crisis in to a city of more than 160,000 souls. Army Command says that the siege only includes the surrounding hills. The Army’s commanding officer has made a statement he insisted should be carried by two media outlets which support the country’s top two political alliances (As-Safir and Al-Mustaqbal). In the statement he asserted that the Army is fighting terrorism, and emphasized the strength of the Army and its ability to launch hundreds of strikes for every strike launched against Lebanon.

 

Now the country is waiting for a shipment of French military aid to arrive. It is waiting for negotiations to start for the release of servicemen who were abandoned in the mountains to fall prey to forces that abandoned revolution for terrorism. No one told our soldiers that we are at war. No one told them we have become the fait accompli partners of the Syrian regime in its war against its own people.

 

We are waiting for aid and for our Information Minister to realize that the performance of the government and security forces is what should observe international standards. He should realize that we are living in a failed state that kills its soldiers, not a European country.

 

Fidaa Itani tweets @fidaaitani

The crisis cell has made no headway in the negotiations for the servicemen’s release. (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

Amid all this hesitation and inconsistency the Nusra Front has taken the country hostage, playing on the nerves of the Lebanese people and raising the level of mutual hatred between the Lebanese sects, as well as between Lebanese nationals and Syrians."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Mr. Itani looks cool in his photo. But he should lose the cigarette because the romanticism of the "thinker" with a cigarette drooping from his mouth has long vanished. It just makes him look stupid, pardon the candor.

    December 26, 2014