The "Iron Fist" is Always an Admission of Failure

Despite the tragedy of fallen soldiers, calls for the Lebanese army to be more hawkish should be ignored

With each tragedy that befalls the Lebanese army when soldiers are killed, we start hearing voices calling for the army to be more forceful, angry and lethal. Politicians start promising an “iron fist” and bloggers start writing about bombing towns with airplanes. I hope with the bottom of my heart that the army is wiser than to listen to those calls.


One of the reasons the “Iron fist” theory is so popular in Lebanon is that people believe that our country has a serious problem with lack of authority. People casually flout the law and act with no discipline. There is a wide yearning for a “savior” that would “impose” the law and trample on Lebanese libertarian instincts to establish “order”.

The problem is that people are confusing moral authority (which is lacking in Lebanon) with the authority of fear and power. A heavy-handed army that is violent and indiscriminate can win temporary stability through fear, but it will sow the seeds of resentment that will eventually grow into a much bigger problem than the one the army was trying to stomp in the first place (The Syrian city of Hama is a cautionary tale in that department).

Heavy handed military violence, no-matter how justified (terrorism, danger..etc), always comes at the expense of moral authority. It is true with the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, the American attack on Iraq, The Syrian attack on Homs and yes, the Lebanese army’s attack on the Naher el bared camp a few years ago.


The Lebanese army has so far proven to be wise. It understands that it has more moral authority than any other player in Lebanon, and it knows better than to squander it. Both sides in the conflict in Tripoli are complaining that the army is too lenient on the other side, but imagine how worse it would be if the army is seen as siding with one side at the expense of the other. It would then face two dangers: A collapse of moral authority and dissent within the army (as many people seem to forget that the army is made up of Lebanese people, including their divisions)

So what is the alternative? How can the army establish order and get the criminals?

What we need, for Ersal and for Tripoli, is for the army to cooperate with the locals to impose limited curfews and conduct targeted and well-planned operations that isolate those who are doing the killing, the incitement and the shooting. Think “Boston police smoking out the marathon terrorists”, not “Bashar el Assad bombing the hell out of terrorists and their mothers”.

That would be a sign of maturity and a proper understanding of authority. Using indiscriminate power means that you failed.

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  • Sareen

    I was beginning to lose all hope in humanity. Thanks for this post.

  • Rami

    Ok Mustapha, I admit I went to the extreme with my post. But come on, do you really think the army should keep on behaving the same way?

    Targeted and specific operations are sometimes being carried out, such as the one that targeted Al-Mawlawi in Tripoli, but we all know what happened next, our government was FORCED to hand him back in Safadi’s car.

    It’s like these operations are ok to be done as long as they’re capturing insignificant criminals, but as soon they get their hand on some relevant guy, hell breaks loose.

    Moreover, these operation are efficient when you’re probably targeting a few people, but what do you do with the large groups in Tripoli and Ersel living among people who actually support them?

    And let’s be real, in a country like Lebanon, we’re very far away from having a moral authority anytime soon! So what do you suggest we do until Ahmad Al-Assir learns how to behave like a real human being?

    The army doesn’t have to use warplanes, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to be firmer when reacting to such incidents.

  • danny

    “So what do you suggest we do until Ahmad Al-Assir learns how to behave like a real human being?”

    How does a human being behave? like hassan Nassrallah who is acting as the head of the state of HA? Come on now! Stop the mockery and using Asir as a scapegoat! the real mass murderers speak in softer tone ala HA!!

    • H

      It’s laughable to suggest that any “leader” in Lebanon could be used as reference on how a decent human being should behave.

  • OldHand

    “The problem is that people are confusing moral authority (which is lacking in Lebanon) with the authority of fear and power.”

    I think Mustafa that you are, in a way, also confusing the two. When you continue and add: “Using indiscriminate power means that you failed.”

    No, you have failed BECAUSE you are not being INDISCRIMINATE enough, because you discriminate, because each group feels there is a different treatment.

    Ok, of course you need to be discriminate in the use of power (tanks versus guns etc.), but you need to be indiscriminate between neighborhoods and groups when applying the law. If you do not do that, you have no moral authority.

    Why is it so difficult to state before the fact/trouble: “We see guys with guns, we will go after them (to kill) whoever they may be, anybody (politician) got a problem with this, explain now or shut the fuck up afterwards. Fire comes out of your neighborhood, we’ll come after you, none of this in-between-intishar shit.

    The latter keeps failing in Saida, Tripoli, Beirut in 75-76 etc, and keeps losing you credibility and morale and men and citizens’ security.

  • Bronxman

    The solution lies somewhere between the indiscriminate use of force and doing nothing. The former results in what you have described Mus, but the latter means impunity for wrong-doers, so they will continue to raise the stakes. I am guessing here, but I assume that the sectarian divide existing in the country also exists within the military. And most of the violence can be narrowed down sectarianism. Moral abiding, neutral, poorly armed law enforcement is no match for immoral, well armed promoters of guided violence.

  • H

    The army doesn’t have to annihilate entire cities to be feared but having troops attacked and killed day in and day out with no mere response isn’t helping their credibility or their image. Should the Lebanese Army be held solely responsible for ruining their own image in the eyes of outlaws? I don’t think so, but at some point they should stand up for themselves and defend what little authority and self respect they have left.