Al Qaeda’s IS and Nusra Front Invade Lebanon, Swell Jihadist Ranks in Jordan
Thursday August 7 saw the fifth day of violent clashes between the Lebanese Army and Islamist fighters in the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, after the Islamic State (IS, formerly IS) and Nusra Front stormed into Lebanon from Syria. That day, Lebanese security forces found at least 30 burnt bodies at a nearby informal camp for Syrian refugees. At least 15 soldiers, 50 Islamist militants, and 12 Lebanese civilians have been killed in the fighting.
Arsal is a majority Sunni city, located just inside the border opposite a string of Shiite villages in Syria.
The clashes were sparked Saturday August 2 by the army’s arrest of Imad Ahmad Jomaa, the Syrian commander of the Fajr al-Islam Brigade, which has been fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Last month, Jomaa announced on YouTube that his Fajr al-Islam had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his newly declared Islamic Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.
Jomaa’s arrest by the Lebanese army brought Islamists flooding into Arsal from Syria. They laid siege to the police station where their leader was held, seized the building and snatched several security personnel.
The Lebanese Army reports 22 troops are missing and feared abducted (see attached map).
Many of the town's civilian residents have fled.
To get full-size map click HERE.
Saudi cash and European arms no match for IS’s American arms
As the fighting raged in Arsal, the Lebanese government conducted an emergency session Thursday with its top military brass: Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwaji, Internal Security Forces Director Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, Head of State Security Gen. George Qaraa and Army Intelligence Chief Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel.
Beirut was buoyed this week by Saudi Arabia’s pledge of $1 billion for purchasing advanced weapons for the Lebanese Army to counter the IS and the other lawless extremists. Washington and Paris also promised to speed arms shipments that were committed to Lebanon in recent months.
On the other hand, it was obvious to all the cabinet session’s participants that this assistance will be too little and too late to haul Lebanon out of the danger zone.
In the course of routing the Iraqi Army, IS acquired enough looted American weaponry to arm three armored divisions.
If this firepower is brought to bear in a prolonged invasion of Lebanon, neither Saudi cash nor US and French arms will suffice to repel the Islamists’ onslaught.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and counterterrorism experts point to four major concerns arising from this week’s turn of events in Lebanon:.
1. The calamitous fallout of a potential IS invasion of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city some 85 km north of Beirut. This city is host to a number of radical Islamist factions who identify with al Qaeda and have for years been at odds with local Shiite and Alawite communities, which maintain ties with Hizballah and Assad.
Potential flashpoints abound in Lebanon
There are more potential flashpoints in southern Lebanon, where Al Qaeda’s ideology has won adherents, particularly in the port-town of Sidon and the neighboring, heavily armed Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh. The Lebanese Army has not ventured to set foot in this camp for years.
2. An Islamist deluge into Tripoli could ignite all-out war between radical Shiite Hizballah and the jiahdist IS and the Nusra Front, that would turn Lebanon into a bloody battle arena between Sunnis and Shiites, second only to Iraq.
Hizballah has so far kept a low profile in the Arsal battles, although it provided the Lebanese army with heavy artillery units for fighting off the Islamists.
3. The Lebanese are concerned by the American view that minimizes the IS drive into Arsal as nothing but spin-off from the Syrian civil war, when the fact is that it fits neatly into the Islamists’ broad scheme for expanding their caliphate from Iraq and Syria into southern Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
4. The IS invasion of Lebanon brings Al Qaeda ever closer to Israel’s borders. If the Sunni Islamists make it into southern Lebanon, Israel will not sit idly by. The Jewish state will have to send forces across the border into southern Lebanon to curtail the new threat to its security, even at the cost of sparking a new Lebanon war.
IS gaining ground amongst Jordanian Salafists
Jordan is also at grave risk from Al Qaeda’s territorial expansion.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources say that the IS following is swelling among local Salafist groups. Experts warn that a majority of Jordan’s 7,000 jihadist Salafists have thrown their lot in with the Islamic Caliphate declared by the IS commander Al-Baghdadi.
Most of the young recruits joining Jordan’s Salafist movement are drawn to the militant ideology of the Jordan-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who led Al Qaeda in Iraq in a bloody rampage against the US-led invasion from 2004, until US forces killed him in 2006.
Abu Muhummand al-Maqdisi, the spiritual leader of Jordan’s Al Qaeda movement and one of the most influential voices of jihadist Salafism, has rejected the Islamic Caliphate. But since the Syrian crisis and the meteoric rise of Al-Baghdadi’s Islamist movement, his influence among young extremists is waning.