Last week, Lebanon’s former Information Minister Michel Samaha was arrested on charges of forming a terror group to commit crimes in Lebanon. Reportedly he had explosives in his car, which were going to be used in attacks in Northern Lebanon, around Akkar, near the border with Syria. His critics say that he was planning to destabilize the country through these attacks and was in contact with two Syrian Army officers over the plot.
“This is what Bashar [Al Assad of Syria] wants” Lebanese security sources quoted Samaha of saying during a videoed conversation with an undercover Internal Security Force Agent, when explaining his bombing plan. Samaha is known for being a staunch ally of the Syrian government and Hezbollah, so much so he is one of the 7 officials that were sanctioned by the US in 2007 for “contributing to political and economic instability in Lebanon”.
The move to arrest Samaha is interesting. Long has Syria protected its supporters in Lebanon, and this has included Samaha for some time. Ever since Syrian troops (and behind them Syria’s feared intelligence and secret service apparatus) entered the country in 1976 to ‘restore’ peace, Syria has heavily influenced Lebanon. Lebanese supporters of Syria, like Samaha, ensured that Syria’s ambitions could be heard in Lebanon, even after most of Syria’s military and intelligence personnel left in 2005.
With the Syrian Crisis raging, Syria has understandably been preoccupied and appears to have temporarily (or as it may turn out, permanently) forgotten its ‘duties’ in Lebanon. The arrest of Samaha, a senior yet attainable open ally of Syria, could be Lebanon’s way of testing how far Syria’s reach still goes in the country.
J Robinson – Twitter: @jprobinsons