On August 23rd 2014, a battalion of Islamists crossed the border with Syria to deliberately kidnap Lebanese soldiers and FSI members. Many reports claimed their existence in Arsal was due to the help of local sympathizers and other Syrian refugees. But their move seemed planned prior to the attack, with one goal in mind: Kidnap a number of Lebanese law enforcement.
Nobody really knew who were the perpetrators behind the kidnapping. Nusra? ISIS? Syrians? Lebanese? Palestinians? One faction adopted the operation, another decapitated two soldiers, while talks are done through Lebanese, Turkish and Qatari negotiators. But their intentions keep on raising questions. Why did they do that? Some believe it was the right time to create a popular discontent over the weak government of Tammam Salam, or to military involve Hezbollah on the borders rather than inside the Syrian territory.
These are five scenarios being circulated in the Lebanese media to free the Lebanese soldiers abducted early August in the border town of Arsal.
Exchange of Prisoners
Four months after, the kidnappers became in a position of force to negotiate in their own terms, requiring the release of Islamists from the Lebanese prison of Roumieh. Their brutal warnings came in the decapitation of two soldiers and the execution of another.
If accepted, this could be a double defeat for the Lebanese government: First, by negotiating with terrorists and opening at the same time a chance for future kidnappings, second by releasing extremists guilty of massacring soldiers (Denniyeh 1999, Nahr El Bared 2007) and organizing terrorist activities on the Lebanese soil. If this option was adopted, the freed extremists should be exiled and never set a foot again on the Lebanese soil or they will be under arrest again On the other hand, Lebanese authorities can play the same game, by arresting/kidnapping individuals on Lebanese soil related to the abductors militarly, allies or by family ties.
This stratagem became popular during the last two decades, where small terrorist groups or gangs kidnapped westerners (7 Estonians), wealthy Arab tourists and even rich Lebanese businessmen. Huge sums of money were paid by unknown sources without ever arresting the kidnappers.
Qatar and Turkey could handle such negotiations as they have the funds needed and the will to directly fund rebel groups they are supporting since 2011.
Many believed that such option within the first week of the abduction could have led to positive results, only if the Islamic Committee didn’t interfere to the side of the kidnappers and negotiated a ceasefire with the Lebanese Army.
Striking while the iron is hot could have formed a joint force of the Lebanese Army Elite with Hezbollah fighters, familiar with the area. This option is no longer valid now, as any fatality could lead to unrest from the soldier’s families and the Lebanese population.
As winter arrived so did the cold on the arid mountains of Arsal, an important factor for the survival of the kidnappers and their hostages. With the military advance of the Syrian Army near the Lebanese border, closed roads and a siege imposed by the Lebanese Army could push the militiamen to withdrawal back into Syria leaving their hostages behind. But again, without guarantee on the safety of the soldiers.
Such action is no longer accepted in our modern times and unlikely to occur in such event. Cruel rulers like Genghis Khan or Josef Stalin rarely or never accepted to exchange prisoners of war; they believed that pride and honor are above human sacrifice, thus spreading fear in their enemies’ eyes.