March 14 MPs were caught off guard when Lebanese Minister of Defense Fayez Ghosn presented damning video footage proving that Salafi Cleric Ahmad al-Assir and his group had initiated the attack on the army, and in the process, exonerated the latter from March 14’s allegations.
March 14, according to the prevailing March 8 view, exploits every issue for its political agenda, even when doing so is a big gamble. Since the recent violence in Abra, the March 14 MPs put the Lebanese army in their crosshairs, claiming that the attack on its checkpoint did not deserve starting the battle that followed.
MPs refrained from using former premier Saad Hariri’s infamous statement about Hezbollah against the army, when he, after the Resistance captured Israeli soldiers in 2006, said that Hezbollah was “a gambler and will pay the price of its recklessness.” While none in March 14 dared say that the armed forces gambled the lives of its soldiers, in Saida, this was more or less implied in March 14’s statements.
Army chief Jean Kahwaji issued four different statements in which he said that the army had carried out its duties without giving more details about the clashes. Yet these were not enough to quell March 14’s questions.
All that March 14 wanted was a clear admission from Kahwaji about the participation of other “illegal militias,” (read: Hezbollah), in the fighting against Assir. Some from March 14 even passed on messages to the army chief, saying, “Your admission to us, even if in secret, would put our questions to rest.” Kahwaji, however, did not budge.
Instead, the army put everything out in the open. In a clever move, the army did not inform its new political foes that its leadership had a bombshell in the case.
The MPs’ condemnations of the army were not backed with any evidence, but at the hearing held by the defense sub-committee in parliament on Thursday, July 11, to question the military, defense minister Fayez Ghosn and Lebanese army officers played the ace up their sleeves, much to the chagrin of March 14’s representatives.
The army and the defense minister provided video footage. Future Movement MPs had no other choice after they saw the footage of Assir, wearing military fatigues and bearing arms, ordering his group to “shred them to bits,” in reference to army soldiers, and how Assir, addressing the army checkpoint at the heart of the controversy, cried, “You animals, we will slaughter to you,” and ordered his fighters to execute the soldiers.
The hearing did not end well, especially since it was chaired by Future MP Samir al-Jisr, who adjourned the session after a quarrel erupted between the MPs present.
To be sure, anyone who rereads the statements made by Future MPs, from Muin Merehbi to Khalid Daher and Ahmad Fatfat, will see that their contentions that Hezbollah had fought with the army “against Sunnis” will likely continue.
However, this position is not endorsed by all of March 14; two different views have come to dominate its camp after the hearing.
The first view holds that it is not in the interests of March 14 to continue its campaign against the military establishment, as it has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that it was correct in its response to Assir’s assault on its checkpoint. The other March 14 segment remains unconvinced by the army’s evidence, and asserts it is only reflecting the views of its constituency.