Retired general Nizar Abdel-Kader, a former deputy chief of staff for army personnel who is in close communication with the army command, told the Guardian: "The army knows there is a gun in every household, they are not going to go out and look for them ... What we are concerned about is the launchers. There is an agreement with Hizbullah that any weapons that are found will be handed over." A mutual respect and cooperation exists between the army and Hizbullah, according to Gen Kader. "They are two very separate entities but they cooperate on security issues," he said, adding that many of the army's troops were from southern Lebanon.Apparently, when Islamist radicals talk about "Lebanese unity," they are referring to a country united behind terror and radical Islam.
One defence analyst who asked not to be named said that, in the south, the army often acted as a subordinate to Hizbullah's military apparatus. "All intelligence gathered by the army is put at the disposal of Hizbullah but Hizbullah does not offer the same transparency to the army," he said. "In a sense, military intelligence in the south is operating on Hizbullah's behalf."
Another retired general, Amin Hoteit, now a professor at the Lebanese University, said: "The army sees Hizbullah as a group that is defending the country and so assists them as best it can."
Speaking last year, the Lebanese army chief of staff, General Michel Suleiman, said: "Support for the resistance is one of the fundamental national principles in Lebanon and one of the foundations on which the military doctrine is based. Protection of the resistance is the army's basic task."
The relationship had been strong for many years, Gen Kader said. "From 1996 onwards there has been a consensus in the army command that Hizbullah was a legitimate national defence force and that the government should extend its umbrella to protect the resistance." He said most army officials viewed the deployment primarily as a "counter-penetration force" working to prevent the infiltration of Israeli intelligence and military patrols.
Hizbullah's top official in south Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, told reporters in Tyre this week that the group welcomed the Lebanese army's additional deployment in the south. "Just like in the past, Hizbullah had no visible military presence and there will not be any visible presence now," he said. "We are helping them with our experience by advising them on the best strategic areas to deploy and the best means of protecting this land from Israeli and US violations."
The UN's expected deployment of 15,000 troops is seen as an additional force to assist in Lebanon's defence against Israel. "We are happy with such a large force to provide sufficient deterrent to Israeli aggression," said Gen Kader.
Reinforcing the fears of many in Israel that Hizbullah would continue to pose a threat, Amal Saad Ghorayeb, a Hizbullah specialist, said the arrival of the army and Hizbullah's redeployment further north was a largely superficial transformation. "The fact they have insisted on retaining their weapons in that area suggests that they intend to use them if and when the time comes."
Suggestions from Washington that the Lebanese army should forcibly disarm Hizbullah have been met with alarm by the army command. "If the mission of the army is to defend the people then the whole country will be behind it, but if it is to act against the resistance, it puts a big question mark over the future of the country," Gen Hoteit said.
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