Lebanon’s top intelligence chief, Syria mediator, resigns


BEIRUT — A Lebanese intelligence chief who brokered the release of Westerners held in Syria and also acted as a mediator inside Lebanon resigned Wednesday after efforts to extend his term failed.

Lt. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim’s tenure as head of the General Directorate of Security ends on Thursday, when he reaches the age of 64 when he retires in Lebanon. On Wednesday afternoon he left his office and was replaced by Brigadier General. General Ilias Baizari as acting head of the body.

“We will continue the march in different fields to serve Lebanon,” Ibrahim said before leaving.

Ibrahim, who has headed the General Directorate of Security since 2011, is known for extensive connections with different local, regional and international figures, including the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group, the Syrian government and Western nations.

A Shiite Muslim, he is expected to eventually replace long-serving Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, who turned 85 in January. Asked by local media if he intended to replace the speaker, Ibrahim said: “May God grant President Berry long life.”

According to Lebanon’s power-sharing agreement, the country’s president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Ibrahim said that if he is offered a ministerial position, he would like to become the foreign minister.

Ibrahim’s term ends at a time when Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Aoun’s term ended in late October, with a deeply divided parliament unable to elect a successor. The country is also without a fully functioning government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati heading a caretaker cabinet.

Mikati indicated last week that Ibrahim’s term could be extended, but no parliamentary session has been held to do so and Berry has not scheduled one.

A rarity in Lebanon, Ibrahim had good ties to Hezbollah, the United States and the international community, making him a key political mediator. At times, he also acted as a diplomatic representative for Lebanon abroad, with roles usually outside the mandate of a top security official.

One of his biggest cases was that of American journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing in Syria since August 2012. The US says Tice is being held by the Syrian government while Damascus denies holding him. Last year, Ibrahim met with US officials in Washington as part of his efforts to broker Tice’s release and later went to the Syrian capital, Damascus, but made little progress.

In 2019, Ibrahim’s mediation led to the release of American Samuel Goodwin, who was held for two months in Syria. That same year, Ibrahim brokered the release of Christian Lee Baxter, a Canadian citizen who had been held in Syrian prisons for nearly a year.

Ibrahim was among eight Lebanese officials indicted in January by the judge investigating the August 2020 massive port explosion in Beirut that killed nearly 220 people. The charges were never specified.

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