The Lebanese army has tightened security measures along the border to prevent the infiltration of extremists fleeing conflict zones in Syria, security sources said.
The need for heightened security is illustrated by a recent raid in Tripoli, in which Lebanese forces killed an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) element who had surreptitiously returned to the country.
On the night of February 4th, an army force conducted a raid on a house in Bab al-Tabbaneh district in response to intelligence information.
Security forces engaged an ISIS element by the name of Hajer al-Abdullah, also known as Hajer al-Dandashi, in a firefight that led to his death, the arrest of his brother, Bilal, and the seizure of weapons, military equipment and cash.
A Lebanese soldier was killed during the raid.
Al-Dandashi had returned to Lebanon 15 days prior, and was staying in Tripoli's Bab al-Tabbaneh district, Al-Joumhouria newspaper reported February 6th.
Born in Akkar, al-Dandashi, 19, had pledged allegiance to ISIS in Iraq, and had acquired experience fighting in the group’s ranks in recent years.
Ground forces deployed at border
Ground forces "are deployed at Lebanon’s eastern border and a large section of the northern border, in a way that prevents infiltration by terrorist elements fleeing Syria", said researcher and security strategist Brig. Gen. Khalil al-Helou.
"Despite the real concerns over infiltration by terrorists, the security situation at the border has been under control since operation Fajr al-Jurud (al-Jurud Dawn)," he told Al-Mashareq.
Operation Fajr al-Jurud, conducted by the army last August and September in the barren outlying areas of Ras Baalbek, al-Qaa and Arsal, resulted in the expulsion of "all terrorist elements" to certain areas inside Syria, he said.
"Since then, the army’s ground forces have been widely deployed at the eastern border of Lebanon with Syria, up to our northern border, including the Wadi Khaled area," he said.
"The ground regiments are backed by other units that help keep tight control of the border," he added.
Enhanced security co-operation
The army has taken "every stringent and serious measure at Lebanon’s eastern and northern borders with Syria to counter terrorism", said Brig. Gen. George Nader, a retired army officer who used to command the airborne regiment.
The army command has been protecting the land border with Syria with four ground regiments, the 6th Brigade, and the 2nd and 6th Intervention Regiments, he told Al-Mashareq.
"There are 10,000 soldiers deployed at these borders to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Lebanon once again, and all these units are equipped with all types of day and night monitoring equipment," Nader said.
In addition to the army's vigilance, he said, there is integrated co-ordination and co-operation between the various security agencies, to maintain security and block the movement of terrorists.
"There is also a great level of co-operation between residents and security agencies with regard to the issue of terrorism," he said.
Controlling border crossings
Two key security measures are being taken at the land border with Syria, journalist Michel Nasr, who specialises in security affairs, told Al-Mashareq.
"The first measure involves the deployment of military units along the entire land border, with special equipment provided by Britain and Germany, in addition to a new programme by the US military in support of the army," he said.
The US provides logistical support to Lebanese forces deployed at the border as part of the counter-terrorism programme, he said.
The second measure involves diligent follow-up from the Army Intelligence Directorate, the General Directorate of General Security, the Internal Security Forces' Information Branch and the State Security Directorate, Nasr said.
According to Nasr, the eastern border, which extends from al-Qaa down to Ras Baalbek and Arsal, is "totally secure against infiltration by terrorists".
So is the Lebanese Shabaa/Syrian Beit Jinn axis, he said, as well as the western Bekaa/Rashaya axis, "as a result of the closure of the illegal infiltration routes in the areas of al-Suwayri, al-Mansoura and Majdal Anjar".
"It is difficult to fully control al-Masnaa [border crossing] area on account of its geographical terrain and climate, due to the presence of valleys and fog which make it possible for smuggling or infiltrations to occur," he said.
"There are weak points in the Wadi Khaled area that allowed the infiltration of Hajer al-Dandashi," he said.
However, he added, "security agencies now have a comprehensive picture of the illegal routes that terrorists use to enter Lebanon from Idlib and other [areas in Syria], as well as the names of the smugglers".