Complicated Politics in Lebanon

Here are the political threads:

Here are the political threads:

  • Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have been off limits to the Lebanese Army for years. More than 350,000 Palestinians live in misery brought to them by their own leadership and the Lebanese government. They are both abused and abusive, and were instrumental in stoking the decades-long Lebanese Civil War.
  • Palestinians are Sunni, and Fatah al Islam, an offshoot of al Qaeda said to be associated with Syrian intelligence, has been operating in the camps. Syrian Alawites are a Shiite sect allied with Iran, but it is manifestly true that unlike Muslims work together if it serves their larger purpose. Saudi Arabia is the primary sponsor of Sunni radicalism and al Qaeda (and Fatah al Islam?).
  • The Palestinians are Syria in opposition to the pro-Western Lebanese government of Fuad Siniora. After the withdrawal of uniformed Syrian forces in 2005 Palestinian refugee camps took in Syrian weapons and agents.
  • The Syrians are desperate to keep the UN from opening the tribunal over the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harriri. Hezbollah is likewise opposed to the tribunal that will likely implicate their Syrian quartermasters.
  • Following the war last summer, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) moved to the southern part of the country for the first time in 30 years and now sit on the border with Israel (aided by the enhanced UNIFIL). This makes both Hezbollah and the Palestinians unhappy – and to the extent that they get in Syria’s way, they make Syria unhappy.
  • The people who lost the most last year in the fighting were Lebanese civilians (primarily in the south but not only in the south) who paid a terrible price for letting Hezbollah put rockets inside their villages, or even inside their houses, and letting Hezbollah wage war against Israel from their space. It is they who stand to gain the most from the movement of the LAF to all of the country’s borders.

And here is how the threads began to unravel Sunday and Monday in Tripoli in the north of Lebanon, far from Israel:

LAF units entered the Nahr al Bared Palestinian camp to eliminate Fatah al-Islam fighters, and the Palestinians fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the LAF. Fighting continued into Monday, with early reports of 22 soldiers and 17 Islamists killed, along with 9 civilians. Syria denied involvement with Fatah al-Islam. Fatah al-Islam denied involvement in a shopping mall bombing in Christian Beirut neighborhood Saturday night and a bus bombing that killed three Christians, claiming it was only interested in “training young Palestinians… to fight the Jews in Palestine.” Lebanese residents of Tripoli stood outside the camp and cheered for the LAF as it entered.

Syrian intervention supported by Iran is the lynchpin of both Palestinian and Hezbollah military capabilities and ability to make trouble for the Lebanese government. Rapid establishment and operation of the UN Tribunal is essential to rooting out Syrian tentacles in a fragile Lebanon before the country unravels again completely.