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Information Division from strength to dilemma

2023-08-16 15:02

Issam Khoury

Lebanon , Information Division , Staff Unit , Ministry of Internal Security , Ministry of Defense , Sectarian Dynamics , National Unity , Administrative Overhaul , Hezbollah,

Information Division from strength to dilemma

"Lebanon's Information Division faces a pivotal shift, challenged by administrative affiliations and sectarian dynamics."




“The core issue in Lebanon isn't rooted in the Information Division but in the Staff Unit. While this unit is administratively tied to the Ministry of Internal Security and Municipalities, its primary function aligns with the Ministry of Defense.”




The Information Branch, under the leadership of Colonel Wissam al-Hassan, gained a reputation for its exceptional ability in tracking espionage networks and pursuing criminals. This prominence transformed it into the most vital security institution in Lebanon, solidifying the influence of the Hariri family and the Future Movement in both Lebanese and regional security matters, particularly in combating terrorism.


Administratively, The Information Branch used to report to the Chief of Staff. However, a recent decision by the Director of Public Security, Major General Imad Othman, proposed its separation from the Staff Command and its integration into Internal Security. This move was opposed by Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi.


Navigating through the Lebanese security and military structure can be intricate due to the sectarian distribution of roles. This structure bifurcates into two ministries:


The Ministry of National Defense: Directed by Minister Maurice Selim [1], he primarily relies on the Lebanese Army Foundation [2] for security intel. This foundation encompasses:

  • Army Command, currently under General Joseph Aoun.
  • Chief of Staff: Now headed by Major General Amin Al-Aram, this position traditionally goes to someone from the Orthodox sect. The Chief of Staff assumes the duties and powers of the Army Commander in his absence.


The role of the Minister of National Defense is predominantly administrative. Their main responsibilities include:

  • Coordinating with defense ministries from other nations.
  • Representing the Ministry of Defense at international forums and embassies.
  • Issuing official statements to the media.


Furthermore, the Minister of National Defense can, after consultation with the Army Commander, appoint the head of the Military Chamber by decree. The functions of this Chamber encompass:

  1. Ensuring the legality of administrative operations within the Ministry of National Defense.
  2. Delayed oversight over accounting for materials and works.
  3. The Department of Public Relations and Information.
  4. The Department of Military Attaches for Lebanon Abroad.
  5. The Department of Legal Affairs and Military Justice.
  6. The Department of Veteran's Service.


The crux of power in the Ministry of Defense and the army rests with the army commander, customarily from the Maronite sect. While Christian and Sunni figures alternate in the ministerial role, it's noteworthy that no Shiite individual has ever occupied this position.



Ministry of Interior and Municipalities


Currently at the helm of this ministry is Bassam Mawlawi, a notable Sunni figure. With a background as a criminal court judge, Mawlawi is recognized for his independence. His rapport with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a figure supported by Syria, is strong. At the same time, he holds significant esteem from retired Major General Ashraf Rifi, a known critic of the Syrian regime.






Affiliated with this Ministry are the following security institutions:


1. Lebanese General Security


Major General Elias Al-Baysari [3] leads this institution, having taken on the role on an interim basis for six months. He succeeded Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who retired on March 2, 2023. Ibrahim was particularly distinguished in his leadership of this entity due to his tight-knit relations with Hezbollah. He orchestrated various deals with extremist groups, including the liberation of the Maaloula nuns, [4] the release of Qatari [5] and Lebanese Shiite abductees, [6] among others. Additionally, Ibrahim supervised the Lebanese-Israeli border demarcation mediated by the U.S. but faced challenges in negotiating the release of American prisoners from Syrian jails.


2. Internal Security Forces


Under the leadership of Major General Imad Othman, the Internal Security Forces comprise several units:


  • Staff Unit: Spearheaded by Brigadier General Naim Shammas, this division is responsible for formulating studies and offering consultations to the Director General.




  • General Inspectorate of Internal Security Forces: This entity has been overseeing various departments since 2017, including:
    • Gendarmerie (Police) under Brigadier General Joseph El-Helou.
    • Central Administration led by Brigadier General Saeed Foua.
    • Institute of Internal Security Forces, typically headed by a Sunni figure.
    • Judicial Unit with Brigadier General Joseph Kallas at the helm.
    • Beirut Police under Brigadier General Muhammad Al-Ayoubi.
    • Embassies Security Service led by Brigadier General Walid Jawhar.
    • Social Services Unit under Brigadier General Faris Hanna.
    • Automotive Security Forces headed by Brigadier General Fouad El Khoury.


3. State Security


Overseen by Major General Tony Saliba, the primary objectives of this body are:

  • Gathering domestic security intel via networks spanning Lebanese territory and processing external data.
  • Monitoring foreign activities that might jeopardize state security and overseeing local interactions with foreign entities.
  • Thwarting espionage and hostile endeavors in all manifestations.
  • Conducting preliminary investigations into events that jeopardize the state's security.
  • Collaborating with other security agencies such as the General Directorate of Public Security, the Internal Security Forces, and the Army Intelligence Directorate.
  • Furnishing the Supreme Council of Defense with routine reports on security and political circumstances.


4. Customs


The General Customs Directorate operates in three primary sections:

  • Director of Beirut
  • Chtaura Region Presidency
  • Tripoli Presidency





The Information Division and the Security Dilemma


The Information Division has established itself as a significant force in Lebanon's security landscape. It's known for its prowess in arresting spies, outpacing even the "State Security" agency, which primarily focuses on espionage and foreign intelligence.


The Division not only maintained a specialized armed force responsible for apprehending law offenders but often did so without coordinating with the General Inspectorate of Internal Security Forces, which traditionally handles such operations. The cornerstone of its prowess is its sophisticated eavesdropping technology for cell phones and the internet. These capabilities, not present in other Lebanese security entities, were introduced during Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's tenure.


Given the Future Movement's influence over the Division, its leadership predominantly represented the Sunni community. The assassination of Wissam Al-Hassan on October 21, 2012, led to the appointment of Major General Imad Othman, Saad Hariri’s security guard chief. Othman, however, couldn't match Al-Hassan's expertise. Under his leadership, the Lebanese General Security, led by Major General Abbas Ibrahim, gained prominence. This power shift coincided with an increased representation of Shiites linked to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in Lebanese security institutions, subtly aiming to dominate the security decisions. It was evident when many Information Division personnel started aligning their loyalties with Major General Abbas Ibrahim, positioning security intel largely under Hezbollah's influence.

Othman's promotion to Director General of the Internal Security Forces on March 8, 2012, paradoxically, seemed like a diminution in his powers. Even though the Information Division operates under internal security, it retains the unique ability to coordinate directly with the Chief of Staff in the Lebanese Army, allowing it agility in bypassing certain internal security and General Staff decisions.


By June 2023, under Brigadier General Khaled Hammoud's directives, the Division underwent substantial administrative shifts:

  • Retirement of 25 officers.
  • Brigadier General Bilal Al-Hajjar's appointment as First Assistant to the Commander of the Institute of Internal Security Forces.
  • Brigadier General Ali Sakineh's appointment as First Assistant to the Commander of the Gendarmerie.
  • Dissociation of the Information Division from the Chief of Staff.
  • Integration of the Information Division with the Office of the Director General of Internal Security.


However, with these changes, Brigadier General Hammoud's tenure is in jeopardy, primarily due to his association with the retiring Chief of Staff Naim al-Shammas. Major General Othman's aspirations to elevate his deputy, Brigadier General Jihad Abu Murad, to Chief of Staff face two primary challenges:

  • Rank: Militarily, Abu Murad ranks below Brigadier General Hammoud.
  • Sectarian Quotas: The Chief of Staff's position traditionally belongs to the Orthodox community, a criterion Abu Murad doesn't meet.

In this intricate tapestry, Major General Othman seems keen on consolidating his influence in Lebanese security, favoring Shiites over Christians while preserving Sunni prominence. Defense Minister Bassam Mawlawi, however, resists these moves, reluctant to ignite sectarian tensions during his tenure.


Logical solution


The core issue in Lebanon isn't rooted in the Information Division but in the Staff Unit. While this unit is administratively tied to the Ministry of Internal Security and Municipalities, its primary function aligns with the Ministry of Defense. Thus, rather than altering the Chief of Staff's role, the more apt solution would be relocating the Staff to the Ministry of Defense. This shift could unify Lebanese factions, especially those who regard the Lebanese Army as a neutral entity crucial for preserving the nation's unity. 


While restructuring institutions is a common procedure, severing ties between an institution and its overseeing ministry is intricate. Implementing such a change demands the Lebanese government's approval, coupled with a parliamentary vote. Given the current proxy nature of Lebanon's government and presidency, achieving this remains a challenge.


If Major General Othman's plan prevails, Lebanon risks diminishing the prowess of the Information Division team, potentially redirecting their allegiance towards Hezbollah.


[1] وزارة الدفاع الوطني/ منصب الوزير


[2] موقع الجيش اللبناني


[3] Acting Director General of the General Security, CV, Elias Al-Baysari


[4] عوامل عجَّلت بتحرير راهبات معلولا، الجزيرة، علي سعد، أكتوبر، نشرين الأول ٢٠١٤


[5] هذا هو الملف السريّ الذي حمله الرئيس عون معه الى قطر، باسكال أبو نادر، النشرة، كانون الثاني ٢٠١٧



[6] مطالبة بالسعي لتحرير المطرانين المخطوفين بعد إطلاق مخطوفي أعزاز، ليال أبو رحال، الشرق الأوسط، أكتوبر/ تشرين الأول ٢٠١٣

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