Abbas Ibrahim … The Eyes and Ears of the Lebanese State

Beirut – In the few years that followed his appointment as general director of the Lebanese General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim managed to prove himself to be a major sponsor of successful internal and foreign mediations, especially in regards to the fierce war his agency is waging against terrorist groups. He has, at the same time, managed to persuade these groups to accept deals, taking advantage of their ambitions and fears.

Ibrahim’s name rose to prominence in successful swap deals with terror groups where he played the role of “achieving the greatest possible gain, while paying the lowest possible price.” These prices were usually paid to the “pockets” of others, not the Lebanese state, which has never paid a dime in these deals that have involved its citizens and its territory.

Ibrahim’s special ties with the contradictory sides have made him an acceptable negotiator and an in-demand mediator in several internal and foreign affairs.

Based on his position as head of the General Security, Ibrahim plays the role of the “eyes and ears of the state.” He is the president’s aide on security files and is also tasked with working on several sensitive affairs, whether through special appointment or through the nature of his work. The reality on the ground however sees him playing a central role in combating terrorist groups through the General Security, which is working at a remarkably effective rate, in cooperation with the other security agencies. He is also in charge of the Palestinian and Syrian files in Lebanon, as well as the administrative role his institution plays in managing foreigners in Lebanon, whether they are artists, expatriates or terror groups.

Some believe that since his appointment to his post in July 2011, Ibrahim succeeded in avoiding being politically affiliated to a certain party. He stayed close to the side that named him – AMAL and “Hezbollah” that appoint all Shi’ite public employees to their posts – while convincing their rivals of his centrist mediator role. This therefor enabled him to maintain his position at a distance from the rival parties in Lebanon, giving himself ample room to maneuver to fulfill his security-political role.

Despite all this, Ibrahim has had his fair share of criticism from both rival parties, whether in his counter-terrorism duty that saw him work closely with the Syrian regime and “Hezbollah” or in his adherence to official institutions and accompanying the interior minister on visits and conferences.

As usual, Ibrahim treated each side with remarkable balance. On the one hand, he repeatedly hailed the role of the “resistance”, which shuts down his critics from the pro-”Hezbollah” camp, and on the other he also praised the official security institutions, which prevents the armed group’s rivals from going too far in criticizing him.

Those close to Ibrahim acknowledge the difficulty of the centrist role he is playing. Editor-in-chief of the “General Security” magazine Mounir Akiki said that Ibrahim has more than once “called on the Lebanese to steer clear of political disputes … stressing that all sides operate under the constitution and Taef Accord.” Lebanon unfortunately, lies in an arena of regional contradictions that affects everyone, but they are all ultimately bound to return to national principles, he noted.

At the General Security, Ibrahim sought to develop the agency and eliminate corruption, which he said usually comes from the head of an institution. If the leader lacks the necessary abilities to manage the institution, then it is doomed to fail.

Upon his appointment to his position, said Akiki, Ibrahim devised a set of programs and goals under the umbrella of the law and jurisdiction. This saw cooperation between the army, Internal Security Forces and State Security agency. Each one of them has its jurisdiction and duties under law. If all three work together properly, then a safe state can be established.

Syrian crisis

Ibrahim has also played a prominent role in mediations linked to the Syrian crisis. In 2012, a pro-Syrian opposition Lebanese group was ambushed by the regime and most of its members were killed. Ibrahim, after being tasked by the political authority, managed to contact the regime and return the corpses to their loved ones. A prisoner who had been captured by the regime was also released.

He played an even more important role after the abduction in Syria of a bus of Lebanese Shi’ites who were traveling from Iran to Lebanon. Here, Ibrahim used his ties with Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to work on releasing them. The mediation saw Ibrahim contact Turkey, Qatar and the Syrian regime to ensure their release.

Akiki attributed Ibrahim’s success in these deals to his belief in the importance of credibility, his official position and his personal relations. These factors allowed him to enter negotiations and continue with them. Ibrahim has not once made concessions at the expense of the Lebanese state, stressed Akiki.

“His smart negotiation skills, patience and knowledge of how the other side thinks, as well as the trust, credibility and direct ties that he enjoys, have built his success,” added Akiki.

He noted however that direct negotiations were never held with “terrorists”.

“I do not believe that he would accept to negotiate with them directly. There was a mediator tasked with relaying their conditions or demands to us and also relaying our own to them,” he explained.

Future ambition

Some say that Ibrahim is seeking to enter the political field in the future and that he is laying the foundation for it now. In his current role, he appears to be walking in the footsteps of Speaker Nabih Berri, who enjoys excellent ties with several main parties in Lebanon, as opposed to “Hezbollah”, which has a limited number of allies and several rivals.

On this speculation, Akiki said: “We need to wait five years (the end of Ibrahim’s term in office) to see if it will come true.”

Ibrahim says that he will be in the place where he will be able “to serve the most, which is what he is doing in his current post,” explained Akiki.

Profile

Abbas Ibrahim was born on March 2, 1959. He hails from the town of Kawthariyet al-Sayyad in southern Lebanon. He is married to Ghada Zeineddine and they have three children: Mohammed, Ali and Bilal.

He first enrolled in military school when he was 19 and he graduated three years later with the rank of lieutenant. Throughout the 1980s, he took part in several training courses in the military, culminating in an infantry course in the United States in 1989. This was followed by a computer course in 1996 to stay up to date with the electronic age. He also received advanced security training in the United Kingdom in 1998.

In 1989, Ibrahim was the personal bodyguard of Arab League envoy to Lebanon Lakhdar Brahimi. He was then appointed bodyguard to late President Elias al-Hrawi and remained in that post until 1992 when he was tasked with protecting then newly appointed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In 1994, he was appointed head of the counter-terrorism and espionage department at the intelligence directorate.

Between 2005 and 2008, Ibrahim was head of the intelligence bureau in the South, putting him on the frontlines of the unrest in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh and all of its complications. He has successfully dealt with this thorny issue, building special ties with the Palestinian leadership there, which he has since used to his advantage in his current post as head of General Security.

Commander of the Palestinian national security forces in Lebanon Sobhi Abou Arab told Asharq Al-Awsat that Ibrahim “was the first Lebanese official to enter the refugee camps and meet with all sides, including popular, organized and Islamic factions. He was the first to initiate contact out of his keenness on security and stability.” Abou Arab hailed Ibrahim’s calm approach, as well as his negotiation skills and diplomatic abilities.

Two years after his appointment as General Security chief in 2011, Ibrahim declared that he had remained at an equal distance from all sides and that he had sought to serve all citizens away from sectarian disputes. This was proven true, garnering him the trust of all sides, who have put their faith in him with the county’s most difficult and complicated files.