January 8, 2008 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 413

Arming, Military Training, and the Weapons Trade in Lebanon

January 8, 2008
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 413

The current political crisis in Lebanon, which began following the August 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war, is now coming to a head. Two of the country's biggest camps - the March 14 Forces, which constitute the majority in the Lebanese parliament, and the Lebanese opposition headed by Hizbullah - have failed to reach agreement over who will be the country's next president and over the makeup of the next government. These two issues will affect the direction the country will take, whether towards the axis of Syria-Iran-Hizbullah, or towards the moderate Arab camp. If no president is chosen by December 31, 2007, the Lebanese parliament will adjourn for three months, leaving the presidential office vacant for a significant period of time - thus increasing the chances of armed violence in the country.

Along with the exacerbation of the political conflict, there is also increasing concern that the situation will deteriorate further, to the point of violence between the two sides, or even civil war. These fears are becoming more and more real, especially in light of the numerous media reports over the past few months that all political forces in Lebanon are arming themselves. These reports suggest that these political forces - and not only Hizbullah - are actively purchasing weapons and distributing them to their activists, who are being trained in military camps set up for that purpose. It seems that this arms race is the result of the desire of all sides to prepare for an armed confrontation that will be inevitable if no agreement can be reached.

Many Lebanese columnists have warned of the possibly severe consequences of this arming, which may even evolve into a second civil war. This concern is shared by the March 14 Forces and the opposition, both of which realize that the distribution of weapons is in itself enough to precipitate yet another Lebanese civil war. (It should be noted that the warnings of civil war are coming mostly from the March 14 Forces.)

Following are excerpts from articles, columns, and reports in the Lebanese and Arab press:

The Growth of the Arms Trade in Lebanon

A special investigation by the London daily Al-Hayat pointed to the arming of the Lebanese civilians. Following are excerpts from the report:

"Seventeen years after the end of the Lebanese civil war, there are again rumors about the 'ghost of armament and horror running through the veins of those who have not yet armed themselves'... Two years of security tensions and political recruitment... have revived the trade in personal weapons, which had been dormant for the past 15 years. No one concerned with the political issues in Lebanon denies the proliferation of personal weapons in the country. Nor do the parties deny that their activists or members are procuring personal weapons out of fear that the other [side] might strike... It is conceded by the representatives of all parties - the groups in power as well as the opposition - that no central decision has been reached by the [party] leaders with regard to the arming of party members. All attribute the trend of buying weapons - which is acknowledged by both the traders and the buyers - to [party members'] fear of the other group..."[1]

Buying Weapons in Lebanon - Not Much Harder than Buying Clothing

A similar investigation by showed the same phenomenon: "'Having a weapon at home makes me feel safe and enables me to protect my family and my possessions.' These words, spoken by a Lebanese citizen, explain why the Lebanese are again arming themselves, following the exacerbation of the political crisis between the opposition and the government... The citizen further said, 'The alacrity with which Lebanese citizens are buying weapons stems from fear of a recurrence of the conflict, or of the outbreak of civil war.' He claimed that 'the trade in weapons is flourishing even though prices have tripled'...

Columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar Hassan 'Aliq wrote, '[I]n Lebanon [today], buying a weapon is not much harder than buying clothing.' He added that 'the price of weapons has significantly risen as a result of the increased demand.' 'Aliq added that 'the make [of weapon] most in demand was the AK-47, followed by the M-16, followed by hand guns. The price of an AK-47 ranges from $300 to $700, while the price of an M-16 starts at $850 and reaches $1000.' 'Aliq further emphasized that 'the phenomenon of arming is not [limited] to a specific ethnic group or district, and the price of weapons is roughly the same in all regions'"...[2]

Lebanese Youth Fear Civil War and Are Leaving the Country

An investigative report by the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with Hizbullah and Syria, described how the fear of an outbreak of armed violence impacts the day-to-day lives of the Lebanese. The report suggested that many Lebanese are reconsidering their priorities and changing their daily routine, fearing the start of hostilities between the two camps. The report also pointed to the prevalence of emigration: "Among young people, too, the atmosphere of worry prevails. While there are some who are excited about the [possible] war, since they have never experienced it in all its ugliness, others emphasize that the [constant] tension under which they have lived during the past two years has led them to a decision to finalize the arrangements necessary to leave Lebanon even before the [upcoming presidential] election..."[3]

The concern about the use of weapons was also reflected in the November 20, 2007 order by Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Al-Murr suspending the issuing of all weapons licenses countrywide until further notice, except to the bodyguards of ministers, MPs, and current and former party leaders.[4]

The Government Will Not Be Complacent in Dealing with the Phenomenon

In light of the numerous reports of the arming of all groups in Lebanon, on September 24, 2007 the Lebanese government held a special meeting to discuss the issue. Present at the meeting were Lebanese military intelligence chief Brig.-Gen. George Khouri, interior security forces information unit head Lt.-Col. Muqaddam Wissam Al-Hassan, and other officers. The official announcement following the meeting read: "Political disagreement among the various political forces in the country is a natural development. However, [encouraging people] to use weapons or force - whether by incitement from the pulpits and the [television] screens, or by sowing hatred in people's hearts and spreading venom and enmity, or by frightening people by telling them that there is no option other than street bombings... - all this is unacceptable. The state and its institutions will deal with such incidents seriously, using every available legal means and avenue to protect Lebanese [citizens]..."[5]

Lebanon's Political Parties Accuse Each Other Of Arming Themselves

Each side in Lebanon is accusing the other of distributing weapons to its activists and of providing them with military training.

March 14 Forces: Hizbullah Is Recruiting and Training Young People

The March 14 Forces claim that Hizbullah is training activists from other Lebanese opposition parties and forces affiliated with Syria, and is even giving them weapons in preparation for the impending conflict. Some elements in the March 14 Forces claim to have information that the opposition is constructing various scenarios in the event that no agreement is reached over the next president - scenarios including a takeover of government offices and [other] facilities, military operations, and disturbances to carried out by the groups simultaneously in several regions.

A special investigation published November 7, 2007 by the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Sa'd Al-Hariri, son of assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri and chairman of the Al-Mustaqbal faction, the largest faction in the Lebanese parliament and part of the March 14 Forces, stated, "As early as a year and a half ago, Hizbullah started training activists from former MP and Workers' Union head Zaher Al-Khatib, from the Syrian Social Nationalist party, from the remnants of Syrian intelligence, and from the National Salvation Front, headed by Fathi Yegen - and all this under the umbrella name The Resistance Brigades. The investigation suggested that these activists are bused from their villages to southern Dhahiya, and from there to the Al-Haramil region in the Beqa' Valley, where they receive military training. These activists are paid a monthly salary of $400 to $600, and are given a weapon." The investigation quoted knowledgeable sources as saying that these activists, "together with Hizbullah, toured the Al-Kharub region in order to work out a plan to target the centers and homes of activists from the Socialist Progressive Party [which is headed by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt], from the Al-Mustaqbal movement, and from Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya."

Al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Muhammad Al-Hajjar accused Hizbullah of taking advantage of the difficult economic situation of Lebanon's youth to recruit them to its armed groups: "There is a detailed plan to take advantage of the difficult economic situation to exploit the unemployed... They will entice them with money, offering a monthly allowance of $400 to $600..." Al-Hajar said that these young people were trained to use light and medium weapons, machine guns, AK-47s, and RPGs. Al-Hajar further claimed that Hizbullah had shifted its target from the Israeli enemy to the enemy within Lebanon. He said: "These groups, formed by [Hizbullah], are civil war militias, trained to generate a charged atmosphere, tension, instability, and internecine wars in all regions of Lebanon."[6]

Lebanese Forces executive body head Samir Geagea likewise warned that "Hizbullah might use armed forces to sabotage the presidential election" if it, that is, Hizbullah, fails to bring in a president who will ensure its interests, like Emil Lahoud did. He claimed that Hizbullah was training and arming activists from the Free National Stream (headed by Michel 'Aoun) or from the Druze opposition, so that they would sabotage the election when the time came. He added that Hizbullah was maintaining training camps in the Beqa' region for training these activists.[7]

In contrast to the March 14 Forces, which vehemently deny all accusations of distributing weapons and training activists, the opposition does not deny arming its activists and even endorses the accusations. The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with the opposition, also reported on the formation of resistance brigades, quoting a certain "field commander" saying that Wiam Wahhab and Zaher Al-Khatib were distributing Chinese-made state-of-the-art weapons to their activists, and that Al-Khatib had recruited approximately 700 activists. In an interview with the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Gen. Michel 'Aoun confirmed that members of his party were buying weapons, and stated that this was being done for self-defense, and that they had received licenses for personal weapons only. He denied that his party was providing military training to its activists.[8]

Lebanese Opposition: March 14 Forces are Distributing Weapons to Their Activists

On the other hand, the Lebanese opposition asserted that the Al-Mustaqbal movement was enlisting hundreds of young Lebanese men, mostly from the north of the country, and training them and equipping them with weapons on the pretext that they were security guards. The In an article titled "Armed Youth of Al-Mustaqbal or Guards of Abandoned Buildings?" the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with the Lebanese opposition, reported that hundreds of armed young men from the Al-Mustaqbal movement were deployed throughout the streets of Beirut on the pretext that they were guards from a security company called Pro-Secure.[9]

Al-Mustaqbal supporter Col. ('Aqid) Muhammad Al-'Ajouz, director of another security company, called Secure Plus, told that his company did not serve any party or military function, and stressed that it was a government-licensed private security company. He claimed that the accusations were part of "the war of rumors being spread by the opposition against the Al-Mustaqbal movement."[10]

In another report, Al-Akhbar alleged that the Socialist Progressive Party, which is headed by Walid Jumblatt, was distributing weapons to residents of the coastal region and the Al-Tariq Al-Jadida district in Beirut in an effort to attract supporters. The report further stated that Jumblatt's party was also giving out anti-tank RPGs that had been stored in warehouses since the civil war. In addition, it was claimed that Jumblatt had given his men a green light to fire at opposition activists if violent conflict broke out.[11]

Both March 14 Forces and Opposition Columnists Warn of Civil War

The arming of all the elements in the country is arousing great concern among Lebanon's citizens, as is evident from numerous columns on the subject, mainly by columnists affiliated with the March 14 Forces. They warn about the possibly grave ramifications of this widespread arming, which could include another civil war.

Lebanon Has Not Yet Recovered From the Last Civil War

In a column in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, Nailah Tweini warned about the possibly grave ramifications of the current upsurge in arming: "...We call on the Lebanese youth themselves, who may not have experienced destruction first hand - as did the preceding generation, which became entangled in a 15-year war of annihilation. Lebanon [has not yet recovered from] the consequences [of that war], and is still paying the price. The fact that over a million Lebanese, mostly young people, have left the country [since the end of the war] is in itself enough to show every young Lebanese citizen the danger of being swept up in the current trend of arming, [military] training, and [following] in the footsteps of the militia.[12]

"No One Will Accept Hizbullah's Use of Force, Coercion, and Oppression"

In an op-ed in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, Nusair Al-As'ad called to end Hizbullah's rule of force and oppression: "...We have no option but to put an end to the Hizbullah state and to the slogans [that Hizbullah is spreading in order to take control of] the domestic Lebanese arena... It is one thing for Hizbullah to debate the legitimacy of its weapons against Israel, but it is quite a different matter for it to lay the groundwork for an alternate state [within Lebanon] - and still another matter for it to make life in Lebanon militia-like in order to bring the country down. All this has nothing to do with 'resistance' against Israel or anything that that requires... No one will accept Hizbullah's use of force, coercion and oppression... We must be resolute..."[13]

Hizbullah's Weapons are Aimed Within Lebanon

Dalia 'Obeid, an activist in the Democratic Left movement, which is part of the March 14 Forces, wrote: "...It's no big secret that Hizbullah's weapons have lost their title of 'weapons of resistance'... There are no longer any external manifestations of the resistance against the Israeli occupation (defeated in 2000) - they have been replaced by the manifestations of resistance against Lebanon's state, independence, and constitution. The roles of these weapons inside Lebanon have multiplied... It [i.e. Hizbullah's weapons] is aimed at those who hold opinions [differing from those of Hizbullah's] in regions of Hizbullah control and hegemony - and [these weapons are] the jailer and executioner of the Lebanese security forces. These weapons will cut off any hand reached out [to disarm] Hizbullah's regional and military arsenal [and will serve as] defender of the honor of the Syrian regime. [Hizbullah is using these weapons] to bully [and control] the Lebanese people...[14]

This Arms Race Will Lead to Civil War

While it is mostly the March 14 Forces that expresses fear over the arming trend, the Lebanese opposition appears to be disturbed about it as well. In his column in the Lebanese pro-Syrian daily Al-Safir, Suleiman Taqi Al-Din claimed that the arming was bound to lead to civil war and schism: "It is [the illegal weapons] that led to civil war in 1975 - the fear of the weapons, the fear of the hegemony, the fear of regional decisions [taken by Hizbullah alone] which are not accepted by the Lebanese people as a whole. Along with the weapons of the Hizbullah resistance, many weapons are [also] spreading amongst all the Lebanese political forces and groups. An intense arms race is underway - no matter how fervently this is denied by those who [choose] to deny it.

"This arms race will inevitably lead to civil war. No one group can assure the other, or give it guarantees, or say that the arming is just for defense... Accordingly, [if we want] to deal seriously with the national crisis, we have no choice but to deal with the problem of weapons...

"Weapons are currently in the hands of every group [in Lebanon], beyond the reach of government supervision and control. Under these circumstances, these weapons will, in essence, serve to drive a wedge among the Lebanese, and as a tool for anarchy..."[15]

*H. Varulkar is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Hayat (London), April 14, 2007.

[2], March 4, 2007.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 10, 2007.

[4] Lebanese National News Agency, November 20, 2007.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), September 25, 2007.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 7, 2007; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 3, 2007.

[7] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), September 9, 2007.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 3, 2007 and November 16, 2007; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 21, 2007.

[9] Al-Akhbar (London), November 12, 2007.

[10], March 4, 2007.

[11] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 13, 2007; November 16, 2007.

[12] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), September 27, 2007.

[13] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), September 30, 2007.

[14] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), October 23, 2007.

[15] Al-Safir (Lebanon), September 22, 2007

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