Saudi Arabia hinders fights against militants on the outskirts of Ersal


Lebanese soldiers deploy to the outskirts of Ersal. (Photo: Al-Akhbar – Haitham Moussawi)
Published Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The Lebanese army has completed its deployment to the region separating the northeastern town of Ersal from its outskirts on the Syrian border, with units now positioned at the Qala’at al-Husn castle (not to be confused with the castle in Syria which shares the same name). But it is impossible to completely shut down all the paths linking the town to its outskirts due to the region’s vast and rugged terrain.
The closure will restrict the movement of the extremists who kidnapped the Lebanese soldiers and police last month, as they will no longer have the freedom to travel in and out of Ersal which they depend on for armament, food and medical care.
The deployment of military forces in the region will also prevent any infiltration attempts by the extremists and allow soldiers to respond to any future attacks.
The army move was approved by Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government last Thursday after it was endorsed by the Lebanese army command before the cabinet met. The army argued that it was necessary in order to prevent the militants from gaining access to the town and assaulting its citizens.
However, the move does not represent a prelude to an extensive army offensive against the militants occupying the outskirts of Ersal.
According to political sources, several obstacles are preventing the army from launching an offence against the militants, most notably “Saudi Arabia’s objection to sealing off the Ersal-Qalamoun region.” According to a March 8 source, the closure of the Ersal-Qalamoun front “will reflect positively on the operations the Syrian army and its allies are carrying out in the Damascus countryside against armed extremist groups, which is something that Saudi Arabia and other countries supporting the Syrian opposition groups will never allow to happen.”
Other sources added that “Saudi Arabia has put the $3 billion donation to the army on hold because of the presidential vacuum and also because of Washington’s opposition to this donation for many reasons including Riyadh’s intention to sign a $25 billion arms deal with Paris.”
However, the source believes that the main reason the deal to arm the military is on hold is because the Lebanese army “isn’t allowed to counter and conquer terrorism.”
The sources also said that “even the $1 billion donation needs a year or more to be transferred and used to obtain the needed weaponry,” referring to a separate Saudi donation announced by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri last month.
Military sources said that the crisis is greater than one thinks and that it has to do with the lack of preparedness of the Lebanese army. A security official said that the army lacks weapons and ammunition and it doesn’t have the ability to enter any battle even if it was for just few days.
“Does the Lebanese state know that the Lebanese army had less than 10 rockets after the Ersal clashes? And that the number only slightly increased after the American arms donation?,” one military source noted.
Other military sources said that the main problem is that “the Lebanese state hasn’t seriously financed any arms deals since the 1980s, depending entirely on donations that are definitely not enough to equip the army and give it the power to enter any battle.”

[T]he main problem “isn’t military or logistical, but it is political and it has to do with Saudi Arabia’s decision back in 2011 to turn Ersal into a transit point for transferring weapons and insurgents from Lebanon to Damascus.” – March 8 source


But a March 8 source rejected this claim, assuring that the main problem “isn’t military or logistical, but it is political and it has to do with Saudi Arabia’s decision back in 2011 to turn Ersal into a transit point for transferring weapons and insurgents from Lebanon to Damascus, and Riyadh’s desire to keep it this way.”
The source continued to say that “those who claim that the army doesn’t have the ability to battle the terrorists and take control over the outskirts of Ersal are merely using it as an excuse.”
A source close to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that the army should “separate Ersal from its outskirts and prevent the militants from occupying the town. Apart from that, the army doesn’t have what it takes to enter a larger battle.”
Former and current army officers said that the only way to eliminate al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would be for the Lebanese army to cooperate and coordinate with the Syrian army.
“The geographic overlap between the two countries, the natural extension of the battles, and the lack of coordination between the two armies are all factors prohibiting the elimination of these terrorist groups,” the officers said.
The officers assured that the military power of the Syrian army would be of great support to the Lebanese army, especially when it comes to air force.
“The Lebanese state is in denial. Many European and Arab countries, such as Egypt, are coordinating with the Syrian government, some secretly and some openly. The coordination needed between Lebanon and Syria isn’t political, it is on the military and security levels,” the officers added.
Moreover, a number of officers responded to those clinging to “the policy of disassociation” by saying that this policy means that Lebanon “should distance itself from the Syrian crisis, not from terrorists occupying Lebanese territory, kidnapping Lebanese soldiers and slaughtering them, and launching missiles at the homes of Lebanese civilians.”
In this context, Al-Akhbar discovered that the Syrian army, before the Ersal clashes, had voiced the need for the Lebanese and Syrian armies to meet and coordinate in accordance with the agreements signed between the two countries. However, Salam immediately rejected any coordination and refused to even consider or discuss it.
The Lebanese government is burying its head in the sand. Lebanon has coordinated with the Syrian state in various files in the past three years, most recently in the coordination between the general security departments of both countries regarding the Syrian refugees who are leaving Lebanon back to their country. And in the future, the director of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, will have to visit Damascus, as a representative of the Lebanese government, and take part in negotiations concerning the release of the Lebanese soldiers.
A politician who is an ally of Damascus sarcastically asked:
“If the Lebanese state genuinely wants to free the Ersal outskirts from terrorists and save the country from their threat, why doesn’t it ask its American allies to target insurgent positions with air raids?”
He then added with a serious tone:
“The bottom line is Saudi Arabia wants the Ersal outskirts to remain a transit point for arms and insurgents battling the Syrian army and Hezbollah in Syria. They don’t care about the collateral damage inflicted on Lebanon as long as the Syrian army is being targeted.”
He concluded by saying that
“the Saudis didn’t lose hope yet when it comes to achieving victory in the Damascus countryside, and Ersal is the gateway to that region.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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