Lebanon has been making a concerted effort to enhance the security of its borders, through joint military drills that teach security personnel how to handle potential breaches, and through comprehensive new legislation.
On September 17th, a Lebanese Army Command proposal for integrated border management was submitted to the Lebanese cabinet for approval.
The National Strategy for Integrated Border Management, which calls for border security responsibilities to be shared among all security sectors, is currently under review, and also awaits Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's endorsement.
Meanwhile, the 1st Land Border Regiment and units from various security agencies in northern Lebanon's Akkar district conducted a joint tactical exercise at the Arida border crossing, which simulated a terrorist infiltration attempt.
Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun attended the drill, which was the first of its kind to be conducted at a border post.
The exercise served to underscore "that border crossings are the responsibility of all security forces, not just the army", Aoun said.
He noted that the crossings are "in better condition than they were years ago thanks to the efforts of the army and security agencies", and stressed the leading role of border regiments in this regard.
The Army Command provides border forces with equipment and training "to facilitate their mission of controlling the border and preventing smuggling", Aoun said.
Several years ago the Lebanese army, with assistance from the EU, developed "an integrated border management strategy" that it has been implementing since, a source at the Lebanese Army Command told Al-Mashareq.
This encompasses the monitoring and control of the country's land, sea and air borders, and also focuses on co-ordination among all security agencies concerned with border control, the source said.
It includes the provision of professional and continuous training to all security agencies, he added.
The overall border security strategy has been divided into three phases, he said, two of which have been implemented already.
The first phase included the development and implementation of an operational emergency plan and co-ordination among the security agencies charged with protecting the border, he said.
The second phase saw the establishment of a training centre for the army’s land border regiments and other security agencies at the Rayak air base.
Here the land border regiments receive the required training for border control, including how to deal with refugees, smuggling and human trafficking.
The third phase hinges on the government’s approval of the strategy, the source said, after which an agreement will be drawn up among the various security agencies regarding the exchange of shared information at all borders.
Putting an end to smuggling
The integrated border management strategy is a "political strategy" intended to ensure Lebanon's borders are under the control of the state, said Brig. Gen. Maroun Hitti, who advises the prime minister on defence and security affairs.
All Lebanon needs is a "political decision on border control and putting an end to smuggling", he told Al-Mashareq.
As it stands, he said, around 90% of smuggling activity benefits Hizbullah, and "no one knows what goods are hidden aboard the [militia's] trucks".
The border management strategy "comes in response to events in which militants and terrorists had free rein over the Lebanese border", security expert and retired military officer Brig. Gen. Naji Malaeb told Al-Mashareq.
The successful conclusion of Operation Fajr al-Juroud in August 2017 put an end to this, he said, as before this, the border had been "wide open for the smuggling of people, goods and weapons".
Ratifying the strategy "enacts border control according to military standards and imposes security co-ordination with Syrian security agencies to take joint responsibility for ending smuggling of all kinds", Malaeb said.
On September 25th, al-Hariri said the government is working seriously to close all illegal crossings and smuggling routes between Lebanon and Syria, stressing that smugglers will be brought to justice.
"Smuggling is a real problem," he said, stressing that the government "will approve the issue of scanners and other detectors to focus on all land, sea and air ports".