Who are Lebanon’s Al-Fajr Forces and why have they joined Hezbollah’s fight against Israel?

The Lebanese Sunni military group the Al-Fajr Forces has reemerged in recent months after a long hiatus, joining the fight against Israel alongside Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border.

The Al-Fajr Forces – established in 1982 – are the military wing of Jamaa Islamiya, a Lebanese Sunni Muslim organisation also known as the “Islamic Group in Lebanon”.

Jamaa Islamiya’s involvement in the border clashes has raised questions about the revival of the Al-Fajr Forces and whether they will continue to have a role once Israel’s war on Gaza ends.

"Jamaa Islamiya's participation has been mixed in Lebanon's Sunni community; some have welcomed the party's involvement while other Sunni officials have denounced the decision and said it only serves Israel" 

The Al-Fajr Forces announced their first military operation of the current conflict on 18 October 2023 – a barrage of missile strikes targeting positions held by Israel in occupied Palestine.

Since then the Al-Fajr Forces have carried out further attacks and mourned the loss of seven of its fighters.

Seven of the group’s paramedics were also killed in Hebbariye on March 27 after an Israeli airstrike targeted an ambulance centre belonging to the Islamic Emergency and Relief Corps, a medical organisation linked with Jamaa Islamiya.
Jamaa Islamiya enters the war against Israel

Jamaa Islamiya is not the first party to join Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, but they are the first Lebanese Sunni group.

Questions about the group’s reemergence had intensified after armed supporters of the group paraded through the streets of Bebnine village in Akkar in late April. Four were reportedly injured as a result of the gunfire, and the incident provoked angry responses in public and political circles.

Jamaa Islamiya’s participation has been mixed in Lebanon’s Sunni community; some have welcomed the party’s involvement while other Sunni officials have denounced the decision, saying it only serves Israel.

Bassem Hammoud, deputy head of the Jamaa Islamiya’s political bureau, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site: “Jamaa Islamiya is exerting its right – like any other Lebanese group – to defend our country’s sovereignty and dignity against excessive Zionist aggression in Southern Lebanon.

“It is participating, alongside all the resistance fighters, in the fightback against Israeli aggression. Its sole message to the Zionist aggressor is that […] the desecration of Lebanese sovereignty is over. Any attack will be answered.”

Commenting on the role of the Al-Fajr Forces after the war on Gaza ends, Hammoud said: “We are currently in a war with a criminal enemy and our concern right now is how to challenge our enemy, protect our people and defend our homeland.”

Hammoud also noted that “the relationship with Hezbollah is between two Lebanese political components. We agree on some issues and differ on others. Right now, we are partners resisting the enemy.”

The military parade in Bebnine and the Al-Fajr Forces’ involvement on the border have shone a fresh light on the group which has always been on the margins of Lebanese politics. Jamaa Islamiya currently has only one representative in parliament, Imad al-Hout.
History of Jamaa Islamiya

Researcher and political analyst Rabih Dandachli explains that “Jamaa Islamiya was established in the mid-sixties […], opened its headquarters in Beirut and spread throughout the Lebanese regions where there was a Sunni presence.”

The Al-Fajr Forces were established in 1982 as the military wing of the party during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and had a military presence in east Sidon in south Lebanon – the first Lebanese Sunni group to do so.

"Jamaa Islamiya and Al-Fajr's example will either be adopted by other groups and the resistance will enter a new phase or it will go back to being just Hezbollah" 

However, Jamaa Islamiya’s involvement in parliamentary politics has largely been relegated to the margins.

“The party’s peak success came after the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) when it won several seats in the parliamentary elections, largely in Beirut and Sidon in the south, and Tripoli and Danniyeh in the north,” explains Dandachli.

Since then, the party has been pragmatic in its alliances, joining both the anti-Syria 14 March Alliance and the pro-Syria 8 March Alliance during different periods after Syria’s exit from Lebanon in 2005.

“In 2005, Jamaa Islamiya boycotted the elections in protest over the electoral law. It then allied with the Future Movement party under Saad Hariri in 2009 and won one seat in Beirut by Imad al-Hout – the sole parliamentarian representative of the group today,” says Dandachli.

Today the Al-Fajr Forces’ participation in Israel’s war on Gaza is largely symbolic and limited. Jamaa Islamiya is compelled to participate due to its close, ideological relationship with Hamas. As such, the Al-Fajr Forces’ role is “more a moral one than a practical one,” concludes Rabih Dandachli.

However, their involvement has still worried the Israelis. The Lebanese resistance, so far, is seen as being confined to Hezbollah and more broadly the Shias in Lebanon.

It is in Israel’s interest to maintain this equation – to besiege and isolate the resistance. The presence of Sunnis working alongside Hezbollah could draw in more supporters from other political parties and broaden the resistance.

Jamaa Islamiya and Al-Fajr’s example will either be adopted by other groups – and the resistance will enter a new phase – or it will go back to being just Hezbollah.

Commenting on the Al-Fajr Forces’ role after Israel’s war on Gaza ends, Mohanad Hage Ali, researcher at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, explains: “I don’t think Jamaa Islamiya will have a role after the ceasefire or that its role will change in the coming stage.

“This is because it is not an active organisation on the field and has no independence from Hezbollah when in the field. Not even from Hamas, which it is closely tied to.”

On the other hand, Mohaned Hage Ali thinks that the Al-Fajr Forces’ participation “may reflect the need for a Lebanese faction to take part which isn’t Shia, aside from the participation of the Palestinian factions, to widen the circle of the forces involved in the struggle.”

Check Also

How Corporations Are Fueling Geopolitical Tensions And Global Conflicts In The 21st Century – OpEd

Multinational corporations with global reach are increasingly getting entangled in conflicts and geopolitical rivalries by …