Lebanon plunged further into a state of unusually severe violence Friday afternoon, as twin blasts tore through two densely-packed mosques following prayers in the northern city of Tripoli. The explosions, which have killed at least 42 at the time of going to press, come just eight days after a car bomb took 30 civilian lives on a residential street in Beirut’s southern suburbs – the deadliest such attack since the 1975-90 civil war, until Friday's.
The eight intervening days have seen Lebanon’s various security forces scramble to bolster citizens’ safety, implementing an array of precautionary measures including checkpoints, army and police patrols, the detention and indictment of terror suspects, and increased bomb-scanning of vehicles in public car parks. While these efforts appear to have yielded some successes – most notably the discovery of a car laden with 250kg of explosives in Naameh on Saturday, as well as that of a bomb rigged to explode in Tyre on Thursday – Friday’s blasts in Tripoli tragically demonstrated the limitations of what Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has called the security “road map.”
Practically speaking, security experts told NOW that beyond basic measures such as checkpoints and searches, what security forces need above all to thwart attacks like these is effective intelligence.
“Whether it’s eavesdropping, communication data, or cooperation with local and regional players, it is all about information,” said retired Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) General Elias Hanna. “Because it’s not a well-known enemy, it’s a shadowy one. You have to have inside information, which is highly difficult with this kind of threat.”
“Nothing is as good as human intelligence,” agreed Riad Kahwaji, founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA). “Especially communication intelligence, this is what’s required. But still, the complications in Lebanon pose the greatest challenge for the work of security services.”
Indeed, all experts NOW spoke with stressed the considerable obstacles to successful attack prevention posed by Lebanon’s perennial political segregation.
“There is no cooperation between the security apparatuses,” said Hanna. “One is considered Sunni, one is considered Shiite, one is considered Maronite, one is considered Catholic, so there is no consensus even on security issues. When you have [a bomb] in Dahiyeh, the other side is laughing, and vice versa.”
“When you have a country that has so much political division, with so much sectarian conflict in the region, and the presence of armed militias, all this makes the task of security services very complicated,” said Kahwaji.
Moreover, argues Kahwaji, possible affiliations between powerful Lebanese factions and the perpetrators of attacks themselves add self-evident difficulties.
“There are obviously some foreign intelligence agencies involved in [these attacks.] [Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan] Nasrallah is blaming everything happening on the so-called ‘takfiris,’ but we haven’t seen any suicide bombings. All of these have been car bombs, which is usually the act of intelligence agencies, whether it’s in Dahiyeh or today in Tripoli.”
“Let’s not forget – people keep forgetting this – the biggest preemption of bomb attacks ever carried out in Lebanon was with the apprehension of [former minister] Michel Samaha. That was the biggest operation that preempted and prevented massive car bombs a year ago. And that [implicated] Syrian intelligence. So how are we going to deal with intelligence agencies such as the Syrian ones when you have militias like Hezbollah allied with them and working together with them?”
With politics being so central an impediment to security, retired LAF General Nizar Abdel-Kader told NOW the only truly viable solution was conciliation between feuding parties.
“Putting a stop to all these security threats starts with some type of consensus among the various political factions to form a government. And to really give this government the opportunity to work and make decisions [and] encourage the judiciary, especially the prosecutor’s office, to call on all security agencies to give them the names of all terror suspects […] This is the only way we can preserve stability.”
Hanna agrees: “It’s about cooperation, about having political consensus. Because in Lebanon especially, security is about the ambience, the political environment.”
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