Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Lebanese Army is facing one of the most difficult tests in keeping the military establishment cohesive and united. Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that the 40 officers, at the head of them Deputy Intelligence Director Brigadier General Ghassan Balah, who tendered a warning and unofficial resignations to Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman and will wait a few days before making their final decision on whether to leave or remain in the establishment according to how the army will act on the ground during the next two days.
Secrecy shrouds these resignations on the military’s part which is keen on not leaking any information or details about them. Though Col. Antoine Bashalani, head of the press and public relations department at the army’s Guidance Directorate, denied at first to Asharq Al-Awsat any knowledge of such resignations, he later said there were no “official resignations” inside the army. Brig. Gen. Ghassan Balah, whose name topped the list of the resigning officers, stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from his office in the Defense Ministry that “something happened in Beirut, it was dealt with, and it was over.” In reply to a question whether his resignation was true, Balah said: “I am in my office.” But he apologized for being unable to give any specific answers and added, “This is an issue that concerns the army and we in the army deal with our affairs away from the media because dealing with them in the media harms the army. These security and military matters are discussed inside the establishment.” He asserted that the situation inside the establishment “is more than excellent” and added, “Of course, something happened in Beirut, it was dealt with, and it was over. There is no fear of a split in army. Everything is dealt with; otherwise I would not be where I am today.”
But a well-informed source asserted to Asharq Al-Awsat that these resignations “were a warning, not final, and conditional” and said, “They were just requesting permission to send a message to the army command telling it they could not stand watching their people have their dignity and security violated while the army does not intervene to defend the Lebanese people’s safety on the pretext of defending its unity.” The source pointed out that the majority of these officers are from the Sunni community and some of them are Christians and said, “They are conditional resignations. Their demand is that the army should do its duty and not be a mere spectator but decisive in preventing the attacks and not allowing anyone to raise a weapon against another or attack anyone.” The source talked about a personal letter the army commander sent to each officer explaining the reasons for the army’s nonintervention in the Beirut clashes “in the hope that they understand and the army keeps its unity.” Asharq Al-Awsat published yesterday a copy of a letter handwritten by Suleiman in which he said “what happened in the Lebanese street was a real civil war which no national army in the world can confront and suppress and that the biggest countries had suffered from such wars and their armies could not resolve the fighting but split into two or more warring parties.”
Khalid al-Dahir, the former deputy who launched before few days the “Sunni and National Resistance Front”, confirmed that these resignations did happen and said: “There are 40 senior Sunni officers who tendered their resignations. I have learned that many personnel in the army are dissatisfied with the army’s behavior.” He added: “This information is very accurate and I know the officers who resigned.” A source close to the government also said that these resignations were just an initial action and they would back down but underlined the importance of keeping them beyond the reach of the media “because reportage of them does not serve the army and its unity.”