The LF started as a military wing of the Lebanese Front and committed horrible atrocities during the Lebanese Civil War. However, this did not prevent it, openly and discreetly, from attempting to stir up a second one.
On Thursday, hundreds of citizens were marching towards the Palace of Justice in Beirut. Protesters desired to object to the politicization of what was supposed to be a uniquely juridical process regarding the Beirut Port explosion that rocked the city almost a year and a half ago.
The demonstration was supposed to be a peaceful act but the reaction the protesters received was not – some did not make it back home to their families. According to security reports cited by various Lebanese media outlets, it is almost certain that at some point in the march, the latter came under fire from snipers belonging to the Lebanese Forces Party (LF). The ambush left 7 people dead including Maryam, a mother of 5, who was deliberately sniped while attempting to get her children to safety after hearing gunfire.
Some hours after the ambush, the Lebanese army issued a statement saying that the rooftops that the snipers were firing from were clear and that arrests were made, without disclosing details about the conducted operation. Amal Movement and Hezbollah issued a statement regarding the armed attack on the peaceful demonstration that took place today in Tayouneh. Both parties blamed the incident on the LF party.
According to a Hezbollah official, Hashim Safi Al-Din, both parties never made the call to the streets and that the organization did not oppose the protests since the Lebanese security forces had it under control. “What was unforeseen was for a certain party to decide to commit murder using military tactics,” Safi Al-Din added.
How peaceful protesters were shot brought back dark days to the residents of the area – days where innocent people were shot across what was called the Green Line separating Beirut, east and west. Many residents could recall the story of a friend or a relative who was shot by Lebanese Forces snipers during the 1975 Civil War that devastated the country for 15 years: Civilians could be buying groceries, taking kids to school, taking a shower, or just making a living like Ali Ibrahim, a motorbike delivery worker that was killed by the same snipers on Thursday.
A history of massacres
The Lebanese Forces were the armed wing of what was called the Lebanese Front that was formed in 1976 during the eve of the Lebanese Civil War. The armed militia is infamously known for numerous notorious mass murder events against Palestinian and Lebanese Civilians. The Karantina Massacre was not the first one committed by the LF, but the scale was horrendous. One of the poorest areas in Beirut, inhabited by Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian nationals was invaded and its inhabitants were massacred mercilessly. Reports indicate that about 1500 people lost their lives, while the survivors were forcefully evicted from their homes.
The Sabra and Shatila refugees camp that was inhabited by Palestinian refugees alongside their Lebanese neighbors experienced tragedy on a larger scale. The crimes took another toll, as they were perpetrated with the help and assistance of the Israeli Invasion forces in 1982. Numbers are still contested to this day, but the toll of the victims surely surpasses a thousand and could amount to 3500. Women and children were not spared, as bone-chilling images and testimonies still conjure the horror of the massacre.
Although the Lebanese Forces (1976), as a military wing of the Lebanese Front, and the Lebanese Forces Party (1990) are not the same thing theoretically, however, they bond on the same ideological grounds. The latter is derived from the former, demonstrating the long rift between factions of what was called the Lebanese Front, which was mainly comprised of Phalengists.
Samir Geagea, the head of the current LF party, has a long history of massacres as well. As a demonstration of the formerly mentioned rift, in 1978, Geagea headed an assassination squad that broke into Tony Frangieh’s premises, the head of a rival faction named Al-Marda, and assassinated Frangie with his family, including his wife and his 3-year-old child.
Nahr al-Mawt massacre in 1990 was the last episode of a long series of massacres. In that incident, the LF shot at protesters just before the war ended. The shooting took the lives of 23 unarmed civilians after they marched to an LF checkpoint demanding the removal of barricades that were blocking the Nahr al-Kalb tunnel. Geagea was convicted later on in 1994 for killing former PM Rashid Karami in 1988, in addition to the bombing of Sayidat al-Najat church in Jounieh killing 10 people and wounding 54.
Following Geagea’s release from his incarceration amid political turmoil following the assassination of PM Rafik Hariri, it would seem that he and his party would choose to drop arms and wear neckties, but that was never an option. Geagea claimed that he meditated and reviewed his actions during the Civil War, not to repent, but only to conclude that what he did was right.
Without getting into the details of the public Lebanese political debate, what Geagea and his party tell in private suggests more solid evidence of their intentions in continuously destabilizing the country to serve his sectarian goals.
A WikiLeaks document dating back to May 2008 reveals that Geagea was keen to inform the US embassy in Lebanon of his possession of about 7,000 to 10,000 combatants that are ready to fight Hezbollah. In said document, he urged the embassy to send arms and munition. Geagea never changed his stance; al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper, reported in October 2020 that the LF leader urged Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese PM, to resign with his parliamentary group, and promised to follow suit. He told Jumblatt that he is ready to fight Hezbollah, raising his combatants’ number to 15,000. Jumblatt responded by describing any attempt to open a military conflict as madness.
In another leak, this time from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs archive, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon sent a cable back home asking the Kingdom to support the LF since Geagea “is the closest to the Kingdom among the Christian leaders and has a firm stance against the Syrian regime; on top of that, he is willing to do what the Kingdom demands of him.” In a second leak, Geagea proceeds to ask for Saudi funding – the ambassador comments in the cable, describing the LF as “the real force that he relies on to deter Hezbollah and those behind it in Lebanon.”
A warlord pushing for a civil war
In an interview with SBI on Friday, Geagea reiterated his ‘no regrets’ stance regarding the ambush and killings of unarmed protesters, blaming the incident on the victims, despite all reports indicating that the perpetrators were LF members. With LF being the weaker faction in this cauldron, it is difficult to find a logical reason as to why they would add more massacres to their long list. It might be that Geagea hopes to start a civil war, as he already hinted on various occasions mentioned before.
يمكن أن نعتبر في مكان ما أن ما شهدناه بالأمس هو “ميني 7 أيار” وإنما هذه المرّة “7 أيار” مسيحي.
— SAMIR GEAGEA (@DRSAMIRGEAGEA) October 15, 2021
The ‘ex-warlord’ probably bets on entangling foreign powers into a hypothetical civil war, namely the US and “Israel”, against his number one rival in Lebanon – Hezbollah. This has been also sustained by Safi Al-Din in his friday’s speech during the victims’ funeral. Safi Al-Din blamed the United States for being behind the incident, saying they are pushing LF to spark a civil war in Lebanon. He also accused the Lebanese Forces of executing US orders in exchange for a payroll.
Two things seem to be certain. The first is, despite the horrors that could face Lebanese society, particularly the LF society, with a second episode of a civil war, Geagea doesn’t seem to hold any regard for that. The second is that the Lebanese faction that desires civil war is incapable of starting one – while the capable tries to avoid it at any cost. For that, another civil war may be far-fetched for the time being.