Lebanon and Gaza

May 25, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

May 25, 2007
Number 05/07 #09

This Update contains articles on both the conflict between the Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam terror group in northern Lebanon, and the ongoing fighting in Gaza.

It leads with David Schenker, Washington Institute for Near East Policy specialist on Lebanon and Syria, who examines the real reasons for the explosion of fighting in northern Lebanon. He says that the Lebanese government’s accusation that Fatah al-Islam is acting essentially as an agent for Damascus is almost certainly true, and that, given Syria’s goals in Lebanon, similar explosions from its allies should be expected in future. Finally, he urges the international community to do more to stabilise Lebanon by refusing to back down from a UN tribunal to try the murderers of former PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005, including, allegedly, senior figures in the Syrian regime. For his valuable background on the Lebanon crisis, CLICK HERE.

Next up, former New York Times Middle East correspondent Youssef Ibrahim looks at the Palestinian role in the crises in both Lebanon and Gaza. He says the Palestinians seem to have developed a tendency to damage their own cause by gravitating to violent “lowest possible denominators” and this explains both their role in the Lebanon violence and the “Mad Max” arena in Gaza. Moreover, it leads to absurdities such as that “bank-robbers-turned-freedom-fighters are likely shooting at the Lebanese army in the name of a free Arab Palestine.” For Ibrahim’s take on the relationship between these two crises, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Israel’s top security affairs journalist Ze’ev Schiff asks why repeated Palestinian ceasefires in Gaza keep failing, and puts them into a context where Palestinian leaders have failed to maintain past agreements with Lebanon, Jordan and other Arab states, as well as with Israel. He also inquires about the Egyptian role in the current crisis and its failure to seal the border and to stop Hamas from freely importing funds. Finally, he discusses Israeli policy vis-a-vis the rocket attacks, and to read it all, CLICK HERE.

The Real Battle for Lebanon Will Take Place at the U.N.

David Schenker

USA Today, May 24, 2007

This past week, Lebanon witnessed its most intense internal violence since its 1975 civil war. Fighting between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the al-Qaeda affiliate Fatah Islam, as well as three bomb attacks in Beirut, have taken a heavy toll, raising concerns about Lebanon’s stability.

Like most of the tensions in Lebanese politics, this spate of violence is not primarily a domestic affair. Indeed, in addition to being populated with al-Qaeda fighters, Fatah Islam has close ties to Syria. The movement of emissaries between Fatah Islam and Damascus is well-documented; the Arab world’s newspaper of record, Al Hayat, even reports that much of Fatah Islam’s leadership is made up of Syrian officers.

Given the Syrian connection, the timing of the violence is no coincidence. Last week, the pro-West, pro-democracy, anti-Syrian Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora petitioned the U.N. Security Council to establish an international tribunal under Chapter 7 — meaning it can be militarily enforced — to prosecute the killers of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. A few days later, the United States, France and Britain formally proposed the resolution to the Security Council.

Syrian officials are leading suspects in the 2005 murder, and Damascus virulently opposes the notion of a tribunal; should senior regime officials be implicated, it would almost certainly shake the foundations of the authoritarian regime. In this context, the strife in Lebanon appears to be a Syrian-orchestrated attempt to destabilize Lebanon and scuttle the international court.

Syrian President Bashar Assad knows Washington needs help on Iraq, and he’s hoping to leverage this for a free hand in Lebanon and the end of the tribunal.

Even so, Washington has few illusions as to the unproductive role Syria is playing. The challenge for the Bush administration will be how to reconcile its priorities without sacrificing Lebanon.

At present, administration support for Beirut vis-a-vis Damascus is solid. But even if the LAF manages to get a handle on Fatah Islam, ongoing Syrian contacts with other Sunni fundamentalist groups and with the Shiite militia/political party Hezbollah suggest that Syrian meddling will remain a problem.

Because of this dynamic, the real battle for Lebanon will not take place in Beirut but in New York, behind closed doors in the U.N. Security Council. Syria’s strategy appears to be to kill the tribunal resolution via a Russian veto.

Countering this offensive will require heavy U.S. diplomatic lifting at the United Nations. Since 2005, Washington has closely coordinated its Lebanon/Syria policy with the Europeans, and France in particular. The council’s debate on the tribunal will be the first real test for newly inaugurated French President Nicolas Sarkozy. U.S. diplomacy and coalition building will be critical — if not necessarily determinative — to passing the resolution.

The key to constraining counterproductive Syrian behavior and ensuring Lebanese sovereignty is seeing through the international tribunal, letting the chips fall where they may. Justice for Hariri is really justice for the Lebanese people and should not be traded as a card either to jump-start still hypothetical Israeli-Syrian peace talks or to rent Syrian assistance on Iraq.

In 2005, nearly one of four Lebanese rallied in Beirut and forced an end to the 30-year-long Syrian military occupation. Nonetheless, Syrian ambitions remain undeterred. To consolidate the gains of 2005, the international tribunal is a must. Until there is a real cost for supporting terrorism and destabilizing Lebanon, Syria will continue to control its smaller, weaker neighbor and, through Lebanon, undermine U.S. interests in the region.

As this past week demonstrated, Lebanon’s government is doing its part to protect Lebanese sovereignty. Now it is up to the United States and its allies on the U.N. Security Council to do theirs.

David Schenker is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2002-06, he was the Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestinian affairs adviser in the office of the secretary of Defense.


Palestinian Arabs Doing Violence to Own Cause

New York Sun, May 24, 2007

Syria and Al Qaeda laid siege to northern Lebanon this week at the aptly named Nahr al-Bared, or “Cold River,” Palestinian Arab refugee camp, but it fell to the ever-obliging Palestinians to do the killing.

The ongoing fighting between the Palestinian Arabs and the Lebanese army in Tripoli says a lot about a skewered sense of entitlement felt by Palestinian refugees in many of the countries that play host to them and not much about their gratitude.

For its part, the Lebanese government has asserted that the Fatah al-Islam gang fighting its army is no more than a band of Syrian hired guns bent on disrupting Lebanon’s latest effort to set up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

U.N. investigators have ascertained that virtually all of the defendants prosecutors are likely to name are Syrian officials, including President Al-Assad, his brother, and a brother-in-law, among others.

Mayhem is always to be expected from Syria, but why are the Palestinian Arabs offering themselves up as tools of Syria, destroying whatever sympathy is still left for their cause, and turning themselves into pariahs in the Arab world? And why do they keep doing it over and over?

In 1990, some 400,000 Palestinian Arab residents of Kuwait cheered on, and even collaborated with, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army during his invasion of the Gulf state; when the Gulf War liberated Kuwait a year and a half later, the Kuwaitis threw all their Palestinians out.

Twenty years earlier in Jordan, armed Palestinian Arab gangs waged the so-called Black September Civil War in an effort to overthrow King Hussein and take over the country.

Both episodes cost the Palestinian Arab cause dearly. Those in Kuwait lost some of the best living standards they ever enjoyed. In Jordan, after killing some 7,000 Palestine Liberation Organization fighters, Hussein threw the rest out along with their leader, Yasser Arafat, who had found his way to Lebanon by 1971.

Within a decade, Arafat and his PLO gangs had brought turmoil to Lebanon, in effect triggering the 1975 Lebanese Civil War and, in 1982, inviting an Israeli invasion of the country. Those travesties got the gangster leadership of the PLO evicted once again, this time to Tunisia, leaving behind some 350,000 Palestinian Arabs holed up in refugee camps of Lebanon, which quickly became 12 cesspools of radicalism. They are where Syria and Al Qaeda went to recruit the newest gang of mercenary Palestinian Arabs, Fatah al-Islam.

All of this invites the question of what makes our Palestinian Arab brethren gravitate constantly toward such lowest possible denominators and end up as the prime losers. After the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993 offered a chance for much of the gang leadership to return to the West Bank and Gaza, it took Arafat’s crew less than two years to alienate even the most die-hard Israeli doves. Suicide bombings led to checkpoints, which led to two intifadas, thus ending the Palestinian Spring.

Shortly after Prime Minister Sharon pulled the Israeli army out of Gaza in the summer of 2005, handing the Palestinian Arabs their own territory to govern for the first time ever, they quickly transformed it into a “Mad Max” arena of shootings, kidnappings, and lawlessness. Unable to agree on anything, Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Brigades, Popular Resistance Committees, and the other factions all went for each other’s throats.

Similarly self-destructive impulses were seen in Lebanon this week, as Fatah al-Islam gang members made their way back to their camp — from a bank robbery — with the Lebanese army in hot pursuit. Because of a Byzantine pan-Arab agreement brokered in 1969, Lebanese forces cannot set foot in any of the camps hosting Palestinian Arab “guests” of Lebanon.

As you read this, the-bank-robbers-turned-freedom-fighters are likely shooting at the Lebanese army in the name of a free Arab Palestine. Sadly, this is the sort of bankruptcy the Palestinian mind has come to.

But the times, they are a-changing. When the Tripoli episode is done, and internecine fighting among the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza resumes, the world will have moved further away from any sense of commitment to the Palestinian cause, and so will other Arabs.

Writing in a mass circulation Egyptian daily, Al-Akhbar, one of the most widely read columnists in Egypt, Ahmad Ragab, ended a biting commentary about the Palestinian infighting with what seems to be a spreading sentiment: “A curse upon all your houses.”


If that’s how they act in Gaza

By Ze’ev Schiff
Haaretz, May 25, 2007

The armed Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip are demonstrating once again what has become a norm among the Palestinians – that the agreements to which their leaders commit have no value. It’s enough just to listen to Palestinian citizens complaining about how the cease-fire agreements there have no meaning. Agreements are made and signed, and immediately violated.

In this latest round of violence, the warring parties have already decided on a cease-fire five times. Each time, within hours, they were back to killing each other and injuring bystanders in the process. If this is how they behave among themselves, why should they be any more scrupulous in abiding by agreements with outside elements such as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt? This is an important lesson that Israel must learn from the recent events in Gaza.

The phenomenon did not originate in Gaza. During the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s, the Palestinians agreed to and signed more than 90 cease-fires. Most were violated with terrible bloodshed. The desire to be rid of the Palestinians was the reason that many Shi’ites welcomed the IDF forces that entered Lebanon. The goal of stopping Palestinian unruliness was also one of the reasons behind Hafez Assad’s invasion of Lebanon. In Jordan, the Palestinians continued to violate the agreements they reached with King Hussein until he sensed that the government was slipping from his hands. There, too, they caused a civil war in which they were beaten by the Jordanian army. The peak occurred not long ago, when the Palestinians crudely violated the Mecca agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government even before the ink was dry.

It is obvious, therefore, that the Palestinians do not want to, or are not capable of, keeping agreements. They’ll always find an excuse or a pretext, even if it ends up hurting them. Some say this happens because the Palestinians have no national entity. But Yasser Arafat had such an entity and controlled a majority of his organizations, and he continuously violated agreements.

Israel has no choice but to continue to seek agreements with the Palestinians, but it also must insist on maintaining broader margins of security. For example, by making every effort in the current situation to isolate the territories of the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and to prevent Hamas from gaining the upper hand in the West Bank. For this reason, most of the security-related sections (the acid tests) in the proposal by the American general Keith Dayton must be rejected.

Another lesson from what is going on in Gaza relates to Egypt. Something strange is happening there. Granted, the Egyptians have improved their efforts to take action against the terrorists in Sinai, but if you compare the Egyptian activity against arms smugglers with the Jordanians’ efforts, the Egyptians receive a low mark. Also quite serious is the way the Egyptians are turning a blind eye to Hamas’ smuggling of large amounts of money, mostly from Iran, into the Gaza Strip. All they require is that those transferring the money declare the amounts. These funds are not designated for the civilian population in the Gaza Strip but for the establishment of a Hamas army. The sense in Israel is that Egypt is playing a two-faced game in the war on terror.

Meanwhile, the war of attrition between Israel and Hamas is continuing, and it’s reasonable to assume that it will expand to other Israeli communities that will come within rocket range. For now, Hamas is notching an achievement versus the citizens of Sderot who are abandoning their city, and against Israel as a whole. The blows Israel inflicts will not be that major, but it’s important that they don’t let up. A temporary incursion by the IDF deep into certain parts of the Gaza Strip is also a possibility.

Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations, which seek mainly to strike civilian targets in Israel, are now complaining about Palestinian civilians being harmed. Israel mustn’t punish Palestinian civilians for the attacks on its communities, but it must return fire immediately to the sources of fire, even if civilians nearby are hurt. This is the most basic and natural right to defense. The fact that Russia was the first one to criticize Israel on this is utterly ridiculous. Israel should be careful not to do in the Gaza Strip what the Russians did with such horrible brutality in Chechnya. The Norwegians, Israel’s erstwhile friends, are ignoring what is happening in Sderot. While the Qassams were being launched, they announced a transfer of donations to the Palestinian Authority; money that will surely find its way to Hamas. To the launchers of the Qassams, in other words. With friends like these, you don’t need enemies.



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