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  • The Lebanese Army: A National Institution in a Divided Society
  • Hilal Khashan
The Lebanese Army: A National Institution in a Divided Society Oren Barak Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009 272 pp., $65.00 (cloth), $25.95 (paper)

Oren Barak is interested in finding out why the small and weak Lebanese army has survived the vagaries of a protracted civil war, especially because "it could play such a stabilizing role in Lebanon without disintegrating or losing its legitimacy" (2). In his working hypothesis on page 17, he asserts that the Lebanese army "enjoys a broad consensus" because it "is reflective of society and its divisions and is careful to abide by the formal and informal 'rules of the game.'" In concluding the book, Barak commends the Lebanese army for the crucial role it played in preserving the state "during the long and devastating conflict as well as in its reconstruction in the aftermath" (197). The hypothesis and the conclusion of the book are not warranted by the structure Barak lays out, however (5-7). Thus, in chapter 2, he shows how Lebanese Maronites sought and succeeded in dominating the army until its disintegration in 1976. In chapter 3, he details how, during the events leading to Lebanon's independence in 1943, the Lebanese army remained neutral, whereas the National Guard sided with the independence movement and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) aligned themselves with the French (44). Chapter 4 discusses the ability of Fuad Chehab, who commanded the army during the period of 1945-58, to use the military as a mediator and arbiter in Lebanon's divisive politics, mainly by refusing to answer to the directives of the ruling political elite. By the time the presidency of Camille Chamoun ended in 1958, Chehab managed to elevate the status of the army into the holder of the country's balance of power and win for himself the office of the presidency.

Chapter 5 examines the preponderant political role exercised by the army under the presidencies of Chehab (1958-64) and Charles Helou (1964-70), which is often referred to as the Chehabi period. Barak shows that Chehab's military and political reforms did not go to the extent of "doing away with the Christian hegemony in the state" (65). If anything, the status of the army during the Chehabi period, buttressed by the expansion of the functions of the apparatuses of state security (La Sûreté Générale) and army intelligence (Deuxième Bureau), became indistinguishable from the military regimes that were on the rise in the Arab region. There was nothing exceptional about the behavior of the Lebanese army during the Cheh-bai period, especially with regard to dissociating the country from the Arab-Israeli conflict. In fact, one of the main functions of the Deuxième Bureau, especially after the rise of the Fatah movement in 1965, was keeping a tight lid on the activities of Palestinians to make sure they would not transform Lebanon into a confrontationist state. In chapter 6, Barak seeks to demonstrate that Lebanon's accommodationist political system, which he prefers to call "consociational," eroded as a result of the regional burdens that were imposed on it. Calling it a fair-weather model, he laments the untoward effect of the country's neighbors on its sectarian balance and the unique role of the army as the guarantor of peace in Lebanon. During the 1960s and until the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, the Lebanese army continued to clash with Palestinian guerrilla movements despite the strong support they enjoyed from Lebanese Muslims. The army took on the Palestinians neither as mediator/arbiter nor as holder of the balance. It did so mainly because its Maronite command regarded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as an agency that could tip the balance of power in favor of Muslims. It certainly did not want to compromise its vision of Lebanon as the embodiment of Maronite nationalism.

In chapters 7 and 8, Barak focuses on the unsuccessful efforts to rebuild the Lebanese army during the presidencies of Elias Sarkis (1976-82) and Amine Pierre Gemayel (1982-88). This period did not witness...


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