There are no indications that suggest the presence of security or military elements in Akkar, a northern Lebanese district bordering Syria. Instead, gunmen have established checkpoints and have been abducting people on the basis of their sect. There has been a widespread proliferation of arms in the area after the Syrian authorities released Suleiman al-Ahmed. Ahmed was welcomed with celebrations on the streets, where many masked individuals held Syrian opposition flags. The four Alawite detainees that were kidnapped in response to Ahmed’s abduction were also released.
We were awed by these recent developments. Has the town of Wadi Khaled become an actual buffer zone for the Syrian opposition? Is it now beyond the reach of the state? Or are Lebanese officials ignoring this chaos that is becoming a larger crisis, paving the way for major security problems that will have adverse consequences in the north?
Lebanese leaders in the north said that what happened in Wadi Khaled was in response to the Baabda Declaration. This declaration was drafted and signed after the recent national-dialogue session headed by President Michel Suleiman on June 11. The leaders described the disturbances in Wadi Khaled as an attempt to diminish the state and the Lebanese army, which was ordered by the national-dialogue participants to maintain a firm grip on the security situation in Lebanon.
The leaders said that soon after the Baabda Declaration was signed, the security situation in the north flared up, and gunmen began to conduct sectarian abductions. The scene in the north was very much reminiscent of the horrible civil war that started in 1975. The army was caught off guard as it it had to deal with the abduction of Suleiman al-Ahmed and his transfer to the Syrian authorities and was unable to keep a firm grip on the suddenly chaotic situation.
It is worth noting that those who were charged with the abduction and the counter-abduction operations were affiliated with the March 14 movement. These incidents nearly ignited a war between the Arab tribes in Wadi Khaled, but the tribes were surprised by and condemned the abductions. "What happened in Wadi Khaled was planned by one specific party that supports the Lebanese opposition," said the northern Lebanese leaders.
This argument is supported by the fact that some pro-opposition Lebanese officials recently took political positions that completely contradict the spirit of the national dialogue.
The free flow of arms and the influx of Syrian refugees in the north, where a state of chaos prevails in the complete absence of security and military forces, suggest that the divisions between the people there are deepening. Wadi Khaled will likely be transformed into a platform for the Syrian opposition. It could also become a buffer zone that might expand depending on future developments.
If Syrian rebels take over the region, the Lebanese opposition will lose its control over Wadi Khaled and be forced to make a decision: either side with the gunmen to protect itself, or withdraw from the area.
However, the pertinent questions are:
- How will the Syrian regime address such a chaotic situation at its border with Lebanon?
- Will the Syrian army target Wadi Khaled or interfere in northern Lebanon to fight these gunmen?
- Are the events in the northern town of Arsal, where the Syrian military detained a Lebanese man and burned the house of the town’s mayor, a “rehearsal” of what may happen in Wadi Khaled?
- Will the chaos be limited to Wadi Khaled or will it spill over, especially if the Free Syrian Army no longer seeks to maintain a low profile in some regions of Lebanon?
A prominent northern leader said that everything depends on the role of the Lebanese army and its response to the plot that is being hatched in the region. Since the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid and his bodyguards, the army’s role in the north has been impaired. However, after the Baabda Declaration and Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s visit to Yarze, the army was able to restore some of its previous functions.
“Today, the ball is in the Lebanese army’s court, and it must test the parties’ intentions regarding the national dialogue. The army must restore security and expose any plans that intend to jeopardize stability,” said the leader.