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Lebanon: The nation and the army

While Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have all felt the heavy burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian civil war refugees on their soil, Lebanon has felt the largest impact on its security from the fighting.

Lebanon’s complex patchwork of religious communities each has their own external supporters. Add to this mix Hizbullah’s participation in the fighting in Syria and a porous border, and the spillover effects from Syria are of huge concern to Beirut. And as always, it is the Lebanese security forces that bind the country together as political leaders continuously put self-interest and communal concerns above the national interest.

Lebanese soldiers, Beirut, 2005 (Flickr/Charles Roffey)

I have a soft spot for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). For all its faults, it is arguably the one truly national institution in the country. And that is no mean feat in a place where one’s national identity must compete for loyalty against the much stronger pull of familial, regional, sectarian and in some cases tribal identity. It is also no mean feat when you have to share the security space with Hizbullah, whose training, equipment and discipline match if not exceed that of the LAF.

The main criticism of the LAF is that when Hizbullah wants to act, the LAF either stands aside or on occasion coordinates with it. The LAF’s counter-argument is that taking on Hizbullah would not only be difficult militarily, but more importantly would also threaten the unity of the LAF itself. A very senior LAF officer once told me that his primary focus was on maintaining the unity of the LAF because it was the only national institution.

The LAF’s size and equipment make it incapable of repelling foreign invasions, and it will never confront Hizbullah, yet the LAF has had plenty of experience in fighting security …read more

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