Friday, May 13, 2005

Janes Inteligence Review: Lahoud, Aoun & the rebirth of the Lebanese Army


DATE: 01-Mar-1995


General Lahoud was appointed commander of the LAF in November 1989 by the incoming President Hrawi, whose Syrian-supported regime was then based in west Beirut. Operating out of east Beirut, meanwhile, was the rival regime headed by the Christian warlord, General Michel Aoun. Lahoud had served under Aoun, who had been appointed commander of the LAF in 1984. By early 1989, Lahoud was head of operations at
the army's headquarters in Yarze in the eastern suburbs of Beirut. However, when Aoun decided to embark on a campaign of violence to assert his power and rid Lebanon of the Syrians, Lahoud and a number of other officers made it clear that they did not want any part in the civil war. Aoun accepted this and allowed them to leave his

It was just a few months afterwards, however, that Hrawi appointed Lahoud as head of the army - a divided army, nevertheless, with one section supporting Hrawi and the other Aoun. In fact, Lahoud was probably the best man that Hrawi could have chosen for the delicate task of heading the LAF. Lahoud has always been widely respected as a man of integrity in Lebanon, and he adopted a conciliatory approach towards those who followed Aoun while, at the same time, holding aloof from any involvement with the Lebanese forces. When, ultimately, a Syrian onslaught forced Aoun to agree to surrender in October 1990, part of the agreement was that Aoun would order his men
to place themselves under the command of General Lahoud. It appears to have been an order that Aoun's men had no difficulty in following. Lahoud was trusted by them and joining him was certainly a far more attractive option than surrendering to the Syrians.

Lahoud quickly took control of the army base at Yarze and the presidential palace at nearby Baabda. But before the Lebanese moved in, the Syrians had apparently rifled through the files with a fine-tooth comb, and had taken any documents of interest to them back to Syria. No doubt the `raid' on Aoun's files provided much useful intelligence for Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan, head of the Syrian intelligence network in Lebanon, a network that works closely with Lebanon's own intelligence apparatus headed by Colonel Michel Rabbani. (See also pp 126-128.)

When the dust settled following the defeat of Aoun, Lahoud set about the mammoth task of rebuilding an army that had been riven by politics and civil war. In the process, he has managed to perform the remarkable feat of retaining the trust of both Americans and Syrians. In fact, Lahoud would be unable to function in any meaningful way without the approval of the Syrians. They wield enormous power and influence in Lebanon where an estimated 30000-40000 Syrian soldiers are based - some Israeli estimates put the figure as high as 45000. At the same time, Lahoud is by no means a puppet of Damascus, and remains an old-fashioned Lebanese patriot.

A Force to be Reckoned With?

As regards relations with the USA, the Americans have signalled their approval of Lahoud and, indeed, the Lebanese government, by supplying large quantities of non-lethal equipment to the LAF. The strength of the LAF is presently about 52000 but, with the aid of an intake of several thousand conscripts, senior LAF sources say that this figure will rise to an unprecedented 60000 during the course of 1995. It is
a big army in Lebanese terms, the estimated population of the country being only 3.5 million. Despite the paring down of costs - conscripts only get food and lodgings - and grants from the USA and various Arab countries, an army of this size is a considerable burden on a fragile economy. The defence expenditure for 1992 was US$271 million.

However, sources in the Lebanese government say the security situation demands an army of this size, and they reckon that this will remain the case for at least the next 10 years.

The LAF has officers and men from many different confessional and political backgrounds, some of whom would have fought each other as members of opposing forces during the years of conflict. One can speculate that, from time to time, this must lead to difficulties. However, senior military officers interviewed at their headquarters in Yarze insist that this is not the case. As part of the process of
disarming and disbanding the militias following the end of the civil war, General Lahoud absorbed about 6000 former militia into the LAF. Obviously, one of the reasons behind the recruitment of the militia was to provide them with jobs, and thus with a vested interest in the new Lebanon that was taking shape following the end of the fighting. But there was also a gamble involved: would, for instance, men who
had fought for General Aoun be able to integrate well with former members of the Lebanese militia who had been involved in a particularly bitter war against Aoun? Also, would former Aoun soldiers integrate well with men who had been with the mainly Muslim sector of the Lebanese army that stayed loyal to the Syrian-backed Hrawi regime in west Beirut - a regime that had opposed Aoun and, ultimately, seen him off? The answer to all such questions is a resounding `yes', according to senior LAF officers who insist that the integration process has been extremely successful. Indeed, one well-informed Lebanese political source claimed that to have been on
the losing Aoun side in 1990 was no bar to advancement in the new army that has emerged from the ashes of the civil war. This source pointed out that, for instance, Michel Abirick, the officer who once acted as General Aoun's own personal head of security, now has the prestigious post of head of the LAF's military academy.

By tradition in Lebanon, the chief of staff of the LAF has always been a Christian, an arrangement that was formalized under the Taif agreement of 1989. Lahoud's deputy is a Shia Muslim, and other senior officers, members of the Army Council, are drawn from the other main confessions such as the Sunni Muslims and the Druze.

Lebanon is an extremely complex society, and people have to be pragmatic and adaptable. It seems that General Lahoud's gamble in recruiting the former militia and taking under his command former `enemies' of the Hrawi regime has paid off after all. No doubt the integration process in the army has been aided by the fact that the
LAF has always been held in high esteem by many elements in Lebanese society, and that this respect for the army survived even during 16 years of civil war.



JoseWales said...

At the same time, Lahoud is by no means a puppet of Damascus, and remains an old-fashioned Lebanese patriot.

Ah yes, back in 1995, I also wnated to believe the jerk when he took the oath of office and promised the rule of law, anew Lebanon etc...What a shame, and his father (Jamil) was the first man to raise the Lebanese flag in 1943.

It's OK Jane's, everyone's wrong once in a while, especially when it comes to Lebanon.

Raja said...

Janes' form of "journalism" is sort of lacking, if you think of it. they interview a few commanding officers of the lebanese army, and a few politicians, and present the responses as reality on the ground. why didn't they interview some captains or colonels as well as soldiers to get a more complex and nuanced picture?

Assuming that most of this article is correct, an interesting fact that I got out of it was the relationship between Aoun and Lahoud. The impression I had was that the two generals despised each other. But according to the article, their relationship was much more amicable and professional than I thought. That probably explains some of Aouns political positions today

Anyways, in the big scheme of things, I kinda feel sorry for Lahoud. If only the SOB stayed as Commander of the Army, he would have left behind a serious legacy. He would have been thought of as the capable commander who rebuilt the Army. But today, all that's gone. Hubris! It has, does, and will always destroy individuals - it is one of the tragedies of human existence.