For a long time the international community has thought of Lebanon as a wash out, a puppet state, a sorry, unfortunate mess. It's time to take a new look at this small, Arab, Middle-Eastern country. The eyes of the Western world should begin focusing on Lebanon.
The Lebanese Army is now engaged in a serious fight with a new enemy, Fatah al Islam. This group, led by a Palestinian named Shahr al Abassi, came into existence only last year as a break-off from a Syrian-backed Sunni fighting group. Fatah al Islam is composed of Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian fighters. Lebanon's new nemesis was created in the image of al Qaeda, espousing al Qaeda beliefs and pursuing al Qaeda goals.
Fatah al Islam is probably - nay, almost certainly, sponsored by Syria. The ultimate mission of this group is to bring disorder and unrest to Lebanon. The short term goal is to act as a distraction thereby preventing any investigation into the assassination of beloved, anti-Syrian, independent, Lebanese leader Harriri - believed by the Lebanese and the free world to have been brutally murdered by the Syrians.
The fighting is fierce. In one day of battle the death tally was nineteen for Fatah al Islam, thirteen for the Lebanese army, six civilians caught in the crossfire and sixty civilians wounded. This particular battle took place in a refugee camp just outside of Tripoli. Fatah al Islam claims that their group is being targeted unjustifiably by the Lebanese army and that there will be just payment in return for the attacks against them. Turns out that in this case members of the group had robbed a bank and all the army was doing was doing their job and attempting to arrest the culprits.
The emergence of Fatah al Islam in Lebanon and the response of the Lebanese army to fight Fatah al Islam offer us several important insights into the new workings within Lebanon and the new reality of al Qaeda terrorists.
Al Qaeda is in Lebanon.
Al Qaeda today is not the al Qaeda the Western world was first introduced to, an al Qaeda headed by a very active Osama bin Laden. Today, al Qaeda is a very loosely linked structure. New al Qaeda groups all agree with the principles of al Qaeda - they are tutored through the al Qaeda-terrorist-DVD box set, they tune in to al Qaeda websites and receive spiritual support from the network that al Qaeda established and continues to develop. But this new generation of al Qaeda-ists has never been to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This new generation is locally trained and sponsored. This is the fresh, new face of al Qaeda, this is al Qaeda as we are seeing it emerge in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Army is at last making a stand for honor, country and control.
The future might be changing for the people of Lebanon. Lebanon has been a country hesitant to act on its own behalf, frustrated and impotent in the face of stronger military and governmental elements. Now, thanks to the support and encouragement of the Germans and the Italians, the Lebanese are actually starting to police Lebanon. The Lebanese are beginning to put an end to the days when Hezbollah and other outside and terrorist groups simply ran roughshod over their country. The border with Syria is still not totally sealed, but Germany and Lebanon are endeavoring to work out a system that will better secure the border. The proof is that the Lebanese army has actually confiscated convoys of weapons - not enough and not all, but more than they ever did before. And, not at all surprisingly, Hezbollah has demanded that their weapons be returned.
Terrorists are actually thieves and thugs.
It is essential to see terrorists for what they truly are - all around bad guys. Terrorists don't only kidnap and bomb, terrorists murder for the thrill of it, they rape because they feel like it, they rob banks. Terrorists use their guns to terrorize locals - in Lebanon and every place else they can be found. Terrorists are not freedom fighters, they are thugs with weapons creating their own wild, wild, West. They use fear and intimidation to get what they want. And what they want is often religious submission, but it is also material goods and cold, hard cash. In this case, in this Lebanese refugee camp, the terrorists truly showed their hand.
Sunni/Shiite conflicts are well-documented but there are also Sunni/Sunni conflicts.
Intra-Sunni conflicts are not about religious orientation and dominance. Intra-Sunni conflicts are about law and order, about politics and power. Fatah al Islam does not want law and order, Fatah al Islam refuses to accept the power of elected politics. Fatah al Islam refuses to accept that the people of Lebanon have spoken and they want law and order and they want an investigation into the Harriri assassination. Fatah al Islam wants and respects only what Fatah al Islam wants.
Syria is still the power and influence behind much of what happens in Lebanon.
And not for the better. The reality is that the Syrian flag waves behind almost all illegal activity and every group within Lebanon that challenges the authority of Lebanon. Fatah al Islam is not the lone exception. Almost every single act of violence within Lebanon is Syrian - sponsored - almost every act. Syria would like nothing more than to destabilize Lebanon and step back into power. Right now that is not happening, but nor for lack of trying on their part.
The enemies of stability are the friends of terror. Lebanon has chosen to fight those enemies. Lebanon needs the support of strong, freedom-loving, friends.
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