Combatting Terrorism- A Lebanese Perspective Wilson Center talk, Washington DC

محاضرات 25 مارس 2015 0

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Before delving into the turbulent Middle East and discussing the endless challenges that the Arab region and my country Lebanon are faced with, allow me to extend my sincere gratitude to the Wilson center and H.E. President Jane Harman for this chance to address this distinguished audience.

I also thank Haleh Esfendiari and my good friend Amal Mudallali for this invitation.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I believe that we are living in extraordinary, and difficult Times. Lebanon and our region are living under an unprecedented threat. The so-called Islamic State is a threat to stability and security for the whole region and the world. Its gruesome videos of burning and beheadings remind us all of the danger this barbaric organization represents to all of us.

 The question for everybody today is: how can the world begin to defeat ISIS?

There can be no doubt / that the military airstrikes launched by the multinational coalition are a necessary condition to weaken and defeat ISIS. But these strikes alone / are insufficient. Defeating ISIS and other terrorist organizations requires depriving these organizations from their ability to attract supporters. ISI thrives on the tragedies, anger and exclusion among Sunni communities especially in Iraq and Syria.

Only a political solution can pull the rug from under the feet of ISIS. This means fair inclusion of all Iraqis and Syrians into the political system, national and not sectarian armies and guaranteeing the safety and dignity of people. We need to ensure that ISIS is permanently defeated from within.

Only inclusive national armies and not sectarian militias Cn fight ISIS without making the problem worse than it already is.

If the Assad regime remains in place and the Iraqi political system continues to operate in the way it does today, no possible amount of air strikes can defeat ISIS.


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Lebanon, perhaps more than any country in the Arab region today, is in dire need of a comprehensive strategy to eradicate the threats of terrorism and to shield itself from the spillovers of violence that is encircling its borders.

Lebanon has always paid the price of competing regional agendas, and interference in its internal affairs. Iran today considers Lebanon part of its sphere of influence and its policies in Lebanon are destabilizing and dividing our country.

Iran is negotiating with the international community over its nuclear program on one hand, while its other hand it continues to expand its influence in the whole region from Iraq to Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Bahrain.


This is one of the main reasons for the rise of sectarian tension in our countries. We hope that any agreement with Iran will lead to a change in Iran’s behavior toward its neighbors.

On the nuclear issue, we encourage and support any initiative that aims at freeing the Middle East from the threats of nuclear and chemical weapons. We stand firmly opposed to the nuclear race in the Middle East and in any other place in the world.

That said, what concerns us most in Lebanon and the Arab world is not only the existential security threat that could be posed by a nuclear Iran. The concern also is that Iran might continue its present behavior in the region even after the agreement. It is feared that lifting of the sanctions will give the Iranian government more money and resources to further increase its meddling and leverage over the region and contribute to the rise of sectarian tension and extremism.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Since March 2011, Lebanon has been paying a very heavy price for the Syrian conflict fending off the risk of spillover of the conflict and struggling with a huge refugee influx.

With more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has become the country with the world’s highest concentration of refugees compared to its total population.

 The Syrian conflict has also taken its toll on the Lebanese economy, public services and infrastructure. Between 2012 and 2014, Lebanon recorded $7.5 billion losses in GDP because of the Syrian conflict. ISIS and al-Nusra Front have been regularly attacking Lebanese army positions on the borders of Lebanon, and in August 2014, both groups kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and police officers.

In Lebanon, we have worked relentlessly to devise a comprehensive strategy to defeat terrorism. Our strategy rests on three essential pillars:

National unity, professionalism in the security sector and theological courage.


The first pillar in the strategy to fight terrorism is consolidating national unity.

Since 2005, Lebanon has been navigating through troubled waters. The assassination of PM Rafik Hariri in 2005, the Israeli war with Hezbollah in 2006, Hezbollah’s takeover of Beirut in 2008, as well as the Syrian war and other regional tensions have disrupted the proper functioning of our political system, and increased sectarian and communal tensions.


For the past 10 months, the Lebanese parliament has failed to elect a new president. Parliamentary elections have been postponed twice and the current government, established one year ago, has been the only functioning political body in Lebanon.

Electing a new president is not only a necessary condition to ensure the proper functioning of our system, it is a precondition for a successful anti-terrorism strategy.

The Lebanese president is the only elected Christian President in the Middle East. Protecting the institution of the presidency in Lebanon and consolidating national unity reinforces the uniqueness of the Lebanese model during these high times of religious extremism and sectarian intolerance in the Middle East.

The Future Movement, which I belong to, took the bold initiative to engage in dialogue with Hezbollah despite all of our fundamental disagreements. These rounds of talks have helped secure a stable environment and reduce the Sunni-Shiaa tensions and allowed us to prevent the spillover of the regional crisis into Lebanon.


The second pillar in our strategy to fight terrorism is improving the professionalism of the security forces in Lebanon. We have been confronting an unconventional enemy.

This requires improving the analytical and reconnaissance capabilities of our security agencies. We need not only to combat terrorist groups, but also to pre-empt their operations ahead of time.

We have managed, for the past year, to improve the coordination and cooperation between the Lebanese army and other security forces.

Lebanon has also been benefiting from the generous support and contributions of its friends, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi leadership has donated $4 billion dollars for the purchase of French weapons for the Lebanese army and the training and equipment of other Lebanese security forces.

The support Lebanon has been receiving from its friends in the United States is indispensable. Lebanon is today the 5th largest recipient of US foreign military assistance. Given the challenges ahead, we need to work more closely together to ensure it increases in proportion to the dangers we face together. Fighting an unconventional enemy such as ISIS requires an extensive upgrade of our technological infrastructure, an increase in training, and capacity building for the military and security forces.

The third pillar in the strategy to fight terrorism is theological courage. Combatting ISIS and other terrorist groups requires the strong support and involvement of courageous religious scholars and preachers.

One of the main conditions to defeat ISIS is the deconstruction of their religious and cultural narrative. We are in dire need of a theological revolution that will reclaim the soul of Islam to its rightful place // a religion of peace, tolerance, and moderation.
This golden trinity – as I like to call it – addresses the means to defeat ISIS and other similar groups.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Discussing the numerous security and political challenges, which Lebanon and the region are currently facing, should not distract us from continuously underlining the humanitarian dimension of the Syrian war and especially the humanitarian dimension of the Syrian refugees crisis.

Today, Syrian refugees are spending their fourth winter in formal and informal settlements, unfinished building apartments and parking lots. More than 10 million Syrians have fled their homes since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

According to the UNHCR, more than 3 million refugees are in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan whereas the remaining are internally displaced within Syria.

We have been doing everything in our power to ensure a safe, dignified living for our Syrian guests. But Lebanon is has been carrying a weight that far exceed its abilities, and we deserve the full support of the international community that needs to share the burden of this unspeakable tragedy.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Allow me to be straightforward /// The Middle East is at an existential crossroads.

The challenges and dangers are threatening the whole region. They are threatening the structure of states, the social fabric and the presence of pluralistic communities.

To prevent these imminent threats, the United States and international community is invited — I would say urged — to endorse and support the strategy that was put forth. If we fail to stand up to this challenge and defeat terrorism, religious extremism and sectarian intolerance will triumph and the Middle East will transform forever. Together – we can make sure this does not happen.

Thank you very much