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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

Baissari awaits approval to become Lebanon’s acting security chief

Baissari awaits approval to become Lebanon’s acting security chief

Lebanon is due to appoint a new acting head of its intelligence agency after the highest-ranking candidate was declared fit to take over from its retiring current chief.
The medical committee of General Security approved on Tuesday the extension of Brig. Gen. Elias Baissari’s commission for nine months, amid questions over his fitness relating to injuries he suffered in a car bomb attack almost 20 years ago.

Acting Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi must now sign off on the medical decision before Baissari can succeed the current General Security chief, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who leaves on Thursday having reached the retirement age of 64.

However, Baissari would assume the position only until the appointment of a new permanent director general when and if a new president can be elected and a national government formed. Mawlawi is currently in Tunis at a meeting of Arab interior ministers.

Baissari previously served in the same role in 2019, when Ibrahim was abroad. Questions over his fitness relate to injuries he suffered in the bombing of the car of former deputy speaker Elias Murr in 2005. Baissari spent a month in a coma but recovered and returned to his post.

It has been reported that Mawlawi’s ministry wanted to extend Ibrahim’s term but dropped its attempt due to opposition among political leaders.

One observer said that some “were reluctant” given Ibrahim’s long-entrenched position in the directorate. With his retirement, “they won’t have to go down the same road with other officials occupying influential positions,” the source said.

Another observer meanwhile said that Shiite parties in Lebanon’s sectarian political system saw him as a “strong contender” to be the next parliament speaker, a position currently occupied by 85-year-old Nabih Berri.

Many high-ranking military and administrative officers including the central bank governor Riad Salameh are due to retire this year, as the state stumbles along without a president while MPs squabble over a preferred candidate.

Ibrahim’s responsibilities covered not only his general security functions but also political, security and diplomatic tasks, leading to his description as a “man for difficult missions.”

He has extensive contacts in the US and Europe as well as in Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

A report by Mitch Portero and Kate Cox, entitled “From Hezbollah to the USA: The diverse networks of Abbas Ibrahim,” said that he “played a key role in maintaining Lebanon’s stability” and was effective at “international diplomacy, which made Western governments reluctant to impose sanctions on him for his links to Hezbollah.”

Ibrahim took over the directorate in 2011, quickly expanding his influence and playing roles in forming governments due to his extensive contacts. He also helped oversee the liberation of abductees in Syria and Iran, and was part of indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to demarcate the maritime borders.

Ibrahim joined the Lebanese army in 1980 and was involved in a number of counter-terrorism operations in his early years.

However, he was charged with functional negligence in 2020 by the judge investigating the Beirut port explosion, Tarek Bitar.

Ibrahim said last year: “When the law allows me, I will appear before judge Bitar. In case the interior minister grants permission for my prosecution, I will appear before the judge the next day. If anyone wants to settle scores with me, I am ready. Law comes first, always.”

On whether he might run for office after retiring, Abbas said: “If the Lebanese see me in the position of parliament speaker, I would be honored. The position is not exclusively reserved for Nabih Berri. Freedom of speech and expression is protected in the constitution and I am committed to it.”

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