Sun, Aug 20, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Lebanese army's ties with Hezbollah revealed

OPEN SECRET Security analysts and former service personnel all confirm that there is a lot of cooperation between Lebanon's military and the guerilla group

THE GUARDIAN , BEIRUT

Hezbollah guerrillas carry the coffins of 10 fellow fighters, draped in Hezbollah flags, during a funeral procession in the southern Lebanese village of Srifa on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

An internal Lebanese army statement, circulated among forces in the past week, has called for troops to stand "alongside your resistance and your people who astonished the world with its steadfastness and destroyed the prestige of the so-called invincible army after it was defeated."

The circular has alarmed ministers in the Lebanese Cabinet who had been calling for the army to disarm Hezbollah.

It will also fuel the concerns of Israel, the US and the UN security council that the Lebanese army is incapable of securing the south of the country, adding increased urgency to the calls for a multinational force to be swiftly deployed.

According to sources close to the army command, there has been a tacit agreement between Hezbollah and the army that those fighters who hail from the south will return to their villages and all arms will be put out of sight. Publicly displayed weapons will be seized but any further attempt to disarm the group has been ruled out for the time being.

"The army knows there is a gun in every household, they are not going to go out and look for them ... What we are concerned about is the launchers. There is an agreement with Hezbollah that any weapons that are found will be handed over," said retired general Nizar Abdel-Kader, a former deputy chief of staff for army personnel who is in close communication with the army command.

A mutual respect and cooperation exists between the army and Hezbollah, according to Kader.

"They are two very separate entities but they cooperate on security issues," he said, adding that many of the army's troops were from southern Lebanon.

One defence analyst who asked not to be named said that, in the south, the army often acted as a subordinate to Hezbollah's military apparatus.

"All intelligence gathered by the army is put at the disposal of Hezbollah but Hezbollah does not offer the same transparency to the army," he said. "In a sense, military intelligence in the south is operating on Hezbollah's behalf."

"The army sees Hezbollah as a group that is defending the country and so assists them as best it can," said another retired general, Amin Hoteit, now a professor at the Lebanese University.

Hezbollah's top official in south Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, told reporters in Tyre this week that the group welcomed the Lebanese army's additional deployment in the south.

"Just like in the past, Hezbollah had no visible military presence and there will not be any visible presence now," he said. "We are helping them with our experience by advising them on the best strategic areas to deploy and the best means of protecting this land from Israeli and US violations."

The UN's expected deployment of 15,000 troops is seen as an additional force to assist in Lebanon's defence against Israel.

"We are happy with such a large force to provide sufficient deterrent to Israeli aggression," Kader said.

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