Lebanon Pulse

Lebanese army advances to secure border

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Article Summary
The Lebanese army has received a substantial arms shipment from the United States, allowing it to advance against terrorist groups in the mountainous border regions.

A Lebanese military source told Al-Monitor that this past week's unusually harsh climatic conditions in the country's mountainous areas acted to the advantage of the Lebanese army in the face of terrorist militants.

For many months, the prevailing impression has been that the terrorist groups deployed on Lebanon’s mountainous eastern border with Syria have been awaiting relief from the cold weather and snow, to intensify their operations against the Lebanese army and Hezbollah’s fighters.

However, the return of the cold in April has seemingly hindered the movement of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in these mountainous areas. Temperatures reached 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and dropped to 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit) in the evening. With the latest snowstorm in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, it seems that the terrorist groups’ expansion plans will likely be delayed for weeks.

Most importantly, the bad weather coincided with another military and logistic game changer, presenting the Lebanese army with an exceptional golden opportunity. The military source told Al-Monitor that the Lebanese army received this past week US-made weapons that tipped the balance in their favor on the battlefield against the terrorist groups.

The source refrained from discussing the details of the weapons shipment, but confirmed that the equipment is highly sophisticated, allowing the Lebanese army to monitor the terrorists’ moves continuously and from afar. This is not to mention the high-precision weapons that the army lacked.

Army units have thus achieved a series of significant military steps in terms of improving and fortifying their positions on the front lines. The same source explained that since the end of February and until mid-April, these developments are now reflected on the ground.

During this period, the army has carried out qualitative operations against terrorists, especially in areas in the central eastern Bekaa Valley, namely in Ras Baalbek. In recent weeks, the Lebanese army made a series of advances and took hold of strategic hills. Data on some of these operations were made public through official army statements.

This was the case on Feb. 26, when the Lebanese army took full control of the hills of Sadr al-Jarash and Harf al-Jarash in Ras Baalbek. Similarly, on April 7, the army announced the implementation of another qualitative operation, which resulted in their taking control of the strategic Mukhayrama hill in the same area. The army killed three terrorists and wounded four. This is important information.

This comes in addition to a series of consecutive small operations, on an almost daily basis, implemented by the Lebanese army units. These operations were made possible by relying on certain factors, which the source narrowed down to the following four variables: the fighting spirit among soldiers; the army's technical and logistic supremacy, thanks to its new equipment; the harsh weather in the mountainous areas; and the apparent rifts among the terrorist groups, as a result of the alleged shift of allegiance of some groups to different leaders.

The military source explained that all these factors allowed the Lebanese army to draw a demarcation line for its deployment in Ras Baalbek and along Lebanon’s eastern border in general. In light of the repetitive qualitative operations, the army bridged several gaps used by the terrorists to infiltrate Lebanon. This has made the army's deployment more harmonious, pushing back terrorist front lines and further bringing them within the army’s range of fire.

The army has also deployed a large, well-equipped force along the Syrian border. According to the source, three full brigades and five combat regiments are now deployed along the lines from Rashaya to the southwest Bekaa Valley all the way up to Ras Baalbek, i.e., more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) along the Syrian-Lebanese borders. The source estimates that this force constitutes 40% of the entire Lebanese army's fighting force.

These new military balances in the battlefield have been a source of relative relief among Lebanese authorities, according to the same military source. There is a clear distribution of fronts between the army and Hezbollah; the latter takes care of controlling the border in Zabadani, the central Bekaa Valley and north Arsal, starting from the Kaa projects to Lebanon's border with Homs. But this issue is not usually discussed overtly. 

The source said that the Lebanese army is now anticipating any possible attack with greater ease. The army has grown more confident in its ability to repel attacks and prevent incursions.

Found in: syria, lebanon, lebanese army, jabhat al-nusra, is, hezbollah, border, bekaa valley

Jean Aziz is a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, a contributor for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse and the host of a weekly political talk show on OTV, a Lebanese television station. He teaches communications at the American University of Technology and the Université Saint-Esprit De Kaslik in Lebanon. On Twitter: @JeanAziz1

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