The Security Challenges for Lebanon and the Surrounding Area
Major General Abbas Ibrahim
About the speaker
Major General Abbas Ibrahim is head of Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security (DGS), which Asharq al-Awsat calls “The Eyes and Ears of the Lebanese State.” He is a highly decorated officer with first-hand knowledge of the most sensitive security challenges in the Middle East.
Before his appointment as Director General of General Security in 2011, General Ibrahim held many significant positions. In 1994, he was appointed head of the counter-terrorism and espionage department at the intelligence directorate – G2. He served as Head of Counter Terrorism branch – G2 from 1998 – 2002. Before that, in 1989, he was the personal bodyguard of Arab League envoy to Lebanon Lakhdar Brahimi. He was then appointed bodyguard to late President Elias al-Hrawi and remained in that post until 1992 when he was tasked with protecting then newly appointed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
He first enrolled in military school when he was 19 and graduated three years later with the rank of lieutenant. Throughout the 1980s, he took part in several training courses in the military, culminating in an infantry course in the United States in 1989. He also received advanced security training in the United Kingdom in 1998.
Between 2005 and 2008, Ibrahim was head of the intelligence bureau in the South, putting him on the frontlines of the unrest in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh.
Major General Abbas Ibrahim is the head of Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security, which Al Sharq Al Awsat calls, “the eyes and ears of the Lebanese state.” He’s in Washington for a number of important meetings.
I’m not going to read a longer introduction. He has held many key positions in counter-terrorism on behalf of Lebanon. He has trained at U.S. Military institutions and infantry, as well as in Great Britain.
And as is required by the State of Lebanon, when senior officials speak on matters of security and intelligence, General Ibrahim will be addressing us in Arabic this evening and our friend Intifadh Qanbar will be up here translating for him. However, the General speaks fluent English and is happy to take questions and answers in English after his talk or French or the other languages…
General Abbas Ibrahim
…or Arabic. There are a number of Arabic speakers here. So feel free to do that. Also I’m happy to say we do have or will have the English version of the General’s remarks. I’ll let Entifadh have this one in case he needs it and as those arrive they’ll be able outside if you care to have one when you leave. Please join me in welcoming General Ibrahim.
Entifadh Qanbar, translating for General Abbas Ibrahim:
At the beginning I’d like to say good evening. My name is General Abbas Ibrahim. I am the General Director of the General Directorate of security in Lebanon. I wanted to talk about the security challenges in Lebanon and the neighboring countries.
For three and a half decades past, my work was exclusively in the work of security and intelligence. During those past decades those security challenges were increasingly becoming more difficult and more challenging. It never retreated or decreased. It always increased and became more difficult to the point that becomes more worrying and fearful.
Specifically, after the attacks of September 11- the terrorist attacks of September 11. The question was in the West, why do they hate us? In spite of that [there] was cheering amongst those terrorists corners or groups in our areas. This kind of celebratory reaction made us worried, specifically after ISIS took over several countries in the region.
And it’s almost the only unique issue that unify us with the neighboring countries, is the issue of ISIS. It comes after it in priority. The challenge is after ISIS is gone, and the nature of the countries after ISIS or the post-ISIS era. And then also the challenge of peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
And there is also other different challenges, depending on the differences of the Arab countries and their nature. And which have differences in terms of political structure, the cultural structure, and the nature of it. In my experience with my country, specifically in difficult and critical times. I would like to warn to deal with the worst security from a technical point of view. It has to be combined even with the economics and the cultural aspects of the society.
This kind of dealing with security it’s a shallow way of dealing with the issue of security and it’s also a way to simplify how security should be understood. In order to understand the security challenges in Lebanon, we have to understand the political circumstances and the cultural circumstances in Lebanon.
And there are many challenges in the security situation in Lebanon, one of them is the excuse that to fight Israel or by some groups to carry the weapon to protect the group or the community from outside dangers. Those two reasons, it looks like they are legitimate and there’s a reason behind it. Israel is an enemy of Lebanon and it doesn’t hesitate to assault Lebanon and violate its sovereignty on land, sea, and on the air and to threaten Lebanon continuously for upcoming wars through military exercises, which those military exercises will not do anything other than raise the degree of tension and security challenges and the last one, which means the last exercises which have been conducted now are the biggest and the largest since twenty years. Additionally, Israel still refuses peace and even the basic human rights for humans and one of them is the right to decide the destiny of the people.
In principle, Lebanon is the country of compromises and political deals, continuously and it’s a country when there is no winner and there is no loser and there is no victorious and there is no defeated and the instances in the past have proven that it is impossible for one party to dominate any other party and the price for such adventures of internal challenges are painful and very high in price and for those who claim they are the ones who are controlling the controls of the country.
And this equation before a parliamentarian and democratic system, which has featured Lebanon continuously that the always dialogue will win and always proven that Lebanon is not going to be a theocratic religious country and it will explode from the inside each time there’s one party that wants to push to be in that axis. We have a precedent of that happening since Baghdad Treaty or Pact in 1958.
And also the tension of 1967 where it was legitimized the presence of a militarized Palestinian existence inside Lebanon through a regional and international pressure, which led to the spark of the civil war and in 1982 the Israelis invaded Lebanon, reached Beirut, and then the marines landed in Lebanon and the multi international forces and also the attacks which has targeted these forces reaching to 2005 and the assassination of the Prime Minister, Rafik al Hariri. This has always proven that security in Lebanon is not independent equation by a self but it’s a result for the political equation that has governed the internal relations between the Lebanese and also between the internal relations as a whole with outside of Lebanon.
Lebanon failed to become an independent, civil country – an absolute, independent, civil country – against the sectarian divides in Lebanon, which resulted in internal and external tensions and also Lebanon failed to become a successful state, which can live with the bright side of the world of the free society of the world and also has proven it’s impossible that we can have a state of khilafah inside a state or a state that is wilayat faqih, which means in other words we cannot be followers or dependents on Iran or Saudis or any other country.
I don’t want to terrify you or fear you but Lebanon within the last years started to move forward in a steady steps to gather all aspects of a failure state as a result of geopolitical presence and its internal problems, most of which are the outcomes of regional conflicts. On its southern border, there is Israel and its wars and its invasions, which have never stopped since its inception. To its north and to the east, there is Syria and the historical confusion in this relation with Syria. Even one of the Syrian opposition figures said recently to the Syrian regime that if Lebanon was a historical mistake or an outcome of a geographic outburst.
Those challenges led to deactivation of the effectiveness of the constitutional powers and also to the minimal degree of responsibility by the governing leadership in Lebanon. Therefore, in every improvement on the security or political improvement of Lebanon became a hostage for external powers and also to the circumstances of its interests conflicting or converging in Lebanon.
The challenges which are facing Lebanon are dangerous. We have security. We have political, economic, and humanitarian problems and a lot of these problems are an extension of the Arab-Israeli conflict, also the conflict in Syria. Also the historical mistake of comparing security challenges which are facing Lebanon has always been blaming this on outside powers and its interference in the internal affairs, which are leading to the problems in Lebanon and then distancing from the internal problems, which became part of the infrastructure of the Lebanese system.
First is the call for the outside seeking his help in order to solve internal problems which gave a reason for outside powers to interfere militarily in the legitimacy which was awarded by those who requested his interference. The link to the outside in terms of the features of culture and Lebanese politics since the 9th century until today, which means from the time of the viceroys until the end of the Ottoman Empire, passing through the delegation with France after the Sykes-Picot Treaty and then the separation from Syria, then the relation with Egypt at the time of Gamal Abdul Nasser and then the legitimizing of the Palestinian weapons in Lebanon and then to the invasion of Israel to Beirut and then imposing a president at the same night of the landing of the marines at the shores of Beirut and then the entrance of the multinational forces. At the same time, with the failing for the project for the leftist and the Arab nationalist and the secular forces, which have been replaced by the lies of the religious rhetoric, very strongly, which had really shaped the Lebanese reality, political reality and created new and different security challenges and geopolitical challenges, which have been governed by money and force and they both carry a religious identity governed by the senses of minorities and also adventurist feelings.
At the same time, when the Christians of Lebanon went to deal with Israel to stop the effect of the Palestinian organizations and its inciting, its forcefully inciting, and seeking its demographic roots by the Muslims to be further away from Lebanon from the effect of the Islamic control and Sunni Muslims, they basically gave away the Nasseri leadership. Some Lebanese Christians started dealing with Israel. Meanwhile, Sunni Muslims were walking away from Abdul Nasser leadership and nationalism and going towards crowning the Gulf countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as their general leader influenced by money and wealth.
On the other hand, Shia Muslims were mainly attracted to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. They quickly turned into a decisive force that had determined Lebanon’s geopolitical position in the midst of the ongoing conflicts, especially after freeing the occupied Lebanese territories from Israel and entering Syria to support the Syrian regime in its war against two of the internationally classified terrorist groups, ISIS and al-Nusra.
Second, a majority of the political elite leaders are obvious to the importance of exercising the basic elements and functions of the state not to mention that they underestimate the use of sectarian arousing speeches filled with hatred and violence. In this context, the Lebanese people adopted a sectarian political system that continuously generates crises, weakens national unity, and prevents the shaping of a national identity that seeks to create a modern state instead of failing, falling into the traps of attraction of this or that axis. The most distinguished fact in the challenges facing Lebanon is that the Lebanese people always chose a political system that prevented their social and political fusion. They have rather transformed their homeland into what can be called a sensitive [unintelligible] of political weapons to the point where the term Lebanization has become commonplace as a term used to describe the situation in countries torn apart by internal wars with foreign influence. It has even been used to analyze the Iraqi situation after the American occupation. Lebanon often appeared to be geographically inhabited by [unintelligible] who do not share common values and interests.