Western countries have made it a norm, if not a policy, to deliberately bypass the Lebanese government institutions when implementing their policies in Lebanon. As Western pressures on Lebanon have increased on issues such as economic reform and the Syrian refugees, efforts have been ramped up to offer an independent line of assistance for the military and security institutions without referring to the concerned official authorities.
According to Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar*, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office dispatched Director General for the Middle East Vijay Rangarajan to Beirut in mid-February in a bid to hold private meetings with the Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, and to inspect the borders with Syria without informing the Lebanese official authorities.
The British envoy also paid visits to Syrian refugee camps, where he held confidential meetings in which he tried to dissuade them from returning home. During the meetings, Rangarajan, stated that his country does not feel that the situation in Syria is now secure enough for these individuals to return to Syria, implying that the aid provided by donor countries is sufficient to provide what the Lebanese state spends on the displaced, the Lebanese paper reported on Tuesday.
Talks with Lebanese Army
Meanwhile, Rangarajan, who specializes in counter-terrorism and Middle East issues, spent most of his talks discussing ways to provide special support for the Lebanese army apart from any official channel. Therefore, he ignored the current debate over the army commander’s ability to work with donors without the permission of the Council of Ministers, and without informing the concerned Minister of Defense.
Nonetheless, it is notable that the visit went beyond diplomatic standards, in what appears to be an official framework in European nations’ interactions with Lebanon. The British side solely arranged the visit’s logistics with the Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, and the Army Intelligence Directorate.
Visit to Grand Serail
The airplane carrying the British visitor landed on the private planes’ runway, and he entered the VIP lounge with the accompanying delegation. Rangarajan also paid a visit to the Grand Serail, where he met Prime Minister Najib Mikati. The Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, who was in the Serail at the time, was baffled by the delegation, which he was unaware of, according to Al-Akhbar.
After contacting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs departments, it became evident that the Lebanese Embassy in London was unaware of the visit, while the British Embassy in Beirut stated that it had not been notified!
When Bou Habib met with Mikati, the latter denied knowing the visit would be secret, affirming that he regarded it as previously coordinated with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. Later, it became apparent that Rangarajan’s visit to Mikati intended to offer prime ministerial cover for the informal process of collaboration with the army command, observing that the British official’s agenda was filled with meetings with the army leadership.
Rangarajan dealt with the matter, as did other Western officials, assuming that there is no need to contact any government official in Lebanon, or the Ministry of Defense, before speaking to the military apparatus, which is meant to be subordinate to political authority’s directives. It is worth noting that the army commander himself does not coordinate in this respect with any of the Lebanese officials, something the Brits are fully aware of.
Cooperation with Lebanese Army
As per Al-Akhbar, the British official discussed with the army commander methods of collaboration between the two sides, as well as the future of Britain’s assistance programs for the military system. The discussion also touched on the British contribution to the construction of towers for border regiments on the Syrian border.
Aoun arranged a tour of the Syrian border for the British ambassador and his entourage to view the processes of the action in the guard towers. In addition, prospects for cooperation between the two sides on this and other issues were discussed. It should be noted that these towers were constructed with British assistance, but the US contributed by installing huge cameras in them to relay live views to the Army Command’s Operations Center.
However, insiders revealed that the broadcasting system permits data to be sent to other locations through satellites, including a military room monitored by Americans at the Hamat Airbase in Lebanon and another at a British base in Cyprus.
* Areej Fatima Al-Husseini translated this article.
Source: Al-Akhbar Lebanese daiy