Counter-Terrorism: Strange Days in Lebanon

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May 22, 2007: Lebanon is being forced to confront the terrorists who have been setting up shop on its territory. No, this isn't about Hizbollah, but Palestinian terror groups, and non-Shia (Sunni Moslem and Christian) terrorist organization. Over the weekend, one of the Palestinian terrorist gangs, Fatah Islam, got into several gun battles with police. So far, there are over a hundred dead, and the police are trying to arrange a ceasefire, rather than assault the camp, and risk much higher casualties. This is the worst fighting inside Lebanon since the 1975-90 civil war ended.

It began as police raided a home, seeking men who had recently attempted to rob a bank. The house was also used by Fatah Islam, and that kicked off a series of gun battles that led to the siege of a Palestinian refugee camp, Nahr al Bared, in northern Lebanon, outside the port of Tripoli. The refugee camp contains some 36,000 Palestinians. As part of the peace deal that ended the 15 year Lebanese civil war in 1990, the Lebanese security forces cannot enter Palestinian refugee camps. The Palestinians are supposed to police themselves. By and large, they do. But the camps are actually separate towns, surrounded by fences and guarded by Lebanese troops and police. As is happening in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians are feuding among thenselves.

Because most Arab states believe Israel must be destroyed, and a Palestinian state established, Palestinian refugees are rarely allowed to become citizens of the countries they are in. As permanent refugees, they have a hard time getting jobs, and get by mainly via foreign aid (with the United States being the largest contributor). Islamic radicalism has become popular among unemployed young men. It feels good to blame the West for all your problems, and to own a gun and be a bad ass outlaw.

The refugee camps have become an excellent hideout for criminals, as long as they are Palestinian, and a recruiting ground for Islamic terrorist groups. One of these is Fatah Islam, which is primarily interested in destroying Israel, and anyone who opposes them. Fatah Islam split from a mainstream Fatah radical group last fall, and are led by a radical who had been bouncing around the Middle East for years, and had recently been forced to flee Iraq. Fatah Islam is also affiliated with al Qaeda, and sees all non-Moslems as enemies, not to mention "heretical" Moslems like Shias and Druze (which, together, comprise over 40 percent of the Lebanese population.) Nearly 40 percent of Lebanese are Christian. So, not surprisingly, when bombs started going off in Christian neighborhoods in the last year, an al Qaeda type group was suspected. There are several al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups in Lebanon, and not all of them are Palestinian. But now Fatah Islam members are the chief suspects in those attacks on Lebanese Christians. While al Qaeda groups attack Shia Moslems in many other parts of the world, they show restraint in Lebanon because so many Lebanese are Shia, Hizbollah is a major Shia group, and Syria (a Sunni country run by its Shia minority and backed by Shia powerhouse Iran) looks after Shia interests in Lebanon.

There are nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and they are not popular. It was fighting between Palestinian factions that ignited the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war, a conflict that trashed the country. The Syrian "peacekeepers", who entered the country in the late 1980s, were soon seen as occupiers and exploiters, and were only driven out two years ago. But Syria left much behind. During over two decades of occupation, Syria developed many business interests in Lebanon, not all of them legal. Many of those commercial connections remain. Syria also helped Palestinian terrorists, and in return, the Palestinians allowed their camps to become havens for al Qaeda terrorists.

Now the Lebanese army is poised to do the unthinkable, and invade a Palestinian refugee camps, in order to capture a hundred or more al Qaeda terrorists hiding out in there. Strange days, indeed.

 


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