Lutfallah-2: Lebanese Army Reinforces Surveillance of Territorial Waters

By Fadi Assaf.

On 27/04, the Lebanese Army boarded a vessel in Lebanese territorial waters. Lutfallah-2 was loaded with arms from Libya, routed through the port of Alexandria and a Turkish port (according to Beirut’s daily Assafir on 30/04). The ship, flying the flag of Sierra Leone and whose crew members are interrogated by Lebanese authorities, was carrying three containers of weapons, ammunition and explosives, including heavy weapons (120mm mortars, anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles). The cargo was seemingly intended to Syrian rebels and was transported to the port of Selaata in northern Lebanon.

Pending the results of investigations by the Lebanese authorities and their possible announcement, speculation is rife and raises a number of questions:

– On the final destination of the ship: was it Syria or Lebanon?

– On the objective of such illegal weapons: was it to fuel the conflict inside Syria, or pave the way for action in Lebanon or from Lebanon to Syria?

– On the possible Lebanese involvement: according to initial reports, there are no Lebanese among the 11 crew members arrested;

– On the strength of coordination between Lebanese security services: an ex-military-turned politician, interviewed on 29/04 on NBN television, wondered if such an operation could be planned without any Lebanese relay including within security services?

– On the nature of the seized material: seized weapons and explosives suggest that the cargo was destined for military operations (which could change the situation, with antitank and antiaircraft systems in particular) and also for planning attacks (explosives);

– On the financing of such operations: as was the case in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Qatar first come to mind regarding the financing of this operation. Can such an operation be carried out without a broader international coordination? The same question arises whether the funding is provided by Gulf-based Syrian businessmen (Saudi Arabia), as evidenced by Assafir (30/04)…

One can also question the role of the UNIFIL (which claims to have strictly played its integral role in this case, as stated in its mission), which deploys vessels off Lebanon’s coast under UNIFIL’s Navy, to attempt to assess the degree of convergence between the current Saudi-Qatari axis and the international community on this particular aspect of the Syrian crisis.

Two theories are worth looking into:

– The ship was boarded by the Lebanese Army AND UNIFIL Navy:

The first theory assigns a central role to UNIFIL’s navy in the identification and boarding of the vessel. The underlying analysis is based on an international will to calm the game, as much as possible, in Syria, and avoid an escalation in northern Lebanon. According to this analysis, the presence of international observers in Syria, while Washington and Paris choose to limit violence pending a possible political solution, would have encouraged UNIFIL to exercise greater vigilance. Saudis and Qataris would not support a lull, and intend to continue their logistical, diplomatic, financial and media support to (Sunni) opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s (Alawite) regime, hence the continued flow of arms to Syria and possibly to Lebanon, in clear violation of international will.

– The ship was boarded by the Lebanese Army WITHOUT the UNIFIL Navy:

An opposing analysis runs that, UNIFIL would be “an accomplice” somehow, to these operations of weapon delivery to Syria. In this context, one analyst indicated the Lebanese Army alone had boarded the vessel. In a talk show broadcast on 29/04 on NBN, he even suggested the existence of complicity from UNIFIL in arms smuggling to Syria (or Lebanon). This analysis suggests that UNIFIL is playing the game of those who wish to fuel violence in Syria.