How Lebanon Dodged a Bullet

Article Summary
The Lutfallah II cargo ship’s arrival in the Lebanese port from Libya could have been disastrous for Lebanon, writes Sateh Noureddine. The ship was carrying weapons for Syrian rebels, and Lebanon cannot afford to get involved in the Syrian crisis. Syrians, Libyans and the Lebanese must make sure that Lebanon remains neutral.  

If we had not been cautious, we would have suspected that the Lutfallah II, a Libyan weapons ship that was impounded before reaching Lebanon’s northern port in Tripoli, was a trap set for Lebanon. It could have been a bomb intended to blow up the fragile Lebanese state and instigate clashes on the Lebanese-Syrian border, where cross-border traffic is essentially unsupervised.

It is uncertain if the entity that blew the whistle on the weapons ship’s arrival made a conscious choice for Lebanon to be responsible for impounding it. After all, the ship could have been either prevented from leaving Alexandria, Egypt or forced to sail to Cyprus or Turkey. This has happened with many ships that have tried to smuggle weapons into Syria, and are now impounded in the ports of these two countries, awaiting trial.

Also, because the ship was destined for Tripoli, this supports the theory that Lebanon and its northern port have become major transit routes for smuggling arms to Syria in lieu of neighboring countries Iraq and Jordan, which previously bore this burden. Lebanon’s role has traditionally been confined to exporting excess stocks of light weapons to Syrian individuals for personal protection — not the formation of a militia, as the cargo aboard the Lutfallah II suggests.

Ammunition is seen inside one of three freight containers that were found on ship Letfallah II after it was intercepted off Lebanon's northern coast and diverted to Selaata port 28/04/2012.

Regardless, the Lutfallah II’s trip to the Lebanese port was not a kind donation from the Libyans. Nor was it a well-thought out move on the part of the Syrians who selected Tripoli as its destination, or the Lebanese who are always looking for excuses to fight over the Syrian issue. The army and the courts cannot keep controlling the clashes taking place in Lebanon forever, nor will they always be able to convince these Lebanese groups that they should avoid being drawn into Syria’s civil war.

Of course, it was also not kind for the ship to appear on Lebanon’s front doorstep amid the internal turmoil taking place there. Here, the debate over arming and militarizing Syria is ongoing. However, the Syrian opposition no longer discusses this issue because they have already made an obvious choice to arm themselves. They have provided many excuses and justifications for this: for example, they say that the Syrian government started the problem and is responsible for militarizing the situation. But that logic only serves extremist Islamic organizations, who have nearly taken over the Syrian uprising with their arms, money and discourse, and are dragging the uprising away from its original goal.

The adventure becomes more dangerous every day. This ship is a new warning that the Syrian civil war must be stopped, rather than exacerbated. Syria is important to Lebanon, and the international border between the two countries and peoples is about to vanish.

Found in: weapons smuggling, weapons, tripoli, syrian crisis, syrian, sectarianism, luftallah ii, lebanese-syrian relations, clashes

Sateh Noureddine is a regular contributor to As-Safir.


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