Mar Elias Palestinian camp, Beirut
Lebanese politicians late this summer are consumed with what they habitually do best. And that is to wring their hands and exclaim 'the sky is falling' while blaming other countries from the US and Wahhabist Saudi Arabia to Shia Iran, Zionist Israel, oil rich Qatar, local sects, rival politicians and various religions for the rise of Daash (ISIS) and the clear signs that it is heading to Lebanon en route to other destinations, including Palestine.
In a video filmed in Raqqa and broadcast this month by Vice News, an Islamic State spokesman announced that the group's priority is "Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and anyone who tries to keep us from liberating Palestine."
So will IS (Daash) be invading Lebanon next month as some here are suggesting?
Several Lebanese political leaders are convinced that it will and a number also doubt Lebanon can stop them given the thousands of young men who are said to be clawing their way to Syria and Iraq and nearby countries to join them. The US Intelligence Community, comprised of 16 American intelligence agencies, leaked a memo to some in the US Congress estimating that Daash (ISIS) will soon be able to field a 250,000 person army with possible limitless numbers or wanabe recruits standing by.
On 8/28/14 several media outlets in Lebanon quoted Education Minister Elias Bou Saab as reporting to them after a cabinet session that "Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq informed us that thousands of fighters supporting Daash are on the Syria-Lebanon border waiting orders to advance." Meanwhile, some Lebanese politicians are urging the Obama Administration, which they frequently vilify and blame for the mayhem in the region, to send "swift military assistance to the Lebanese Army and security forces, to stop the Islamist threat faced by Lebanon."
On 8/26/14 during a meeting with the representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, British Ambassador Tom Fletcher, U.S. Ambassador David Hale, and the French and Chinese Charge D'affairs as well as U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Pumbly, the Speaker of Lebanon's Parliament demanded that "the international community overcome the traditional, protocol mechanism to meet Lebanon's pressing weapons demands as soon as possible."
At noon on 8/29/14 the Pentagon will deliver to the to Beirut airport some boots, gear and light ammunition in the presence of a U.S. Embassy delegation and some Lebanese Army officers and no doubt plenty of Lebanese politicians. More than this PR should not be given to Lebanon until it complies with American laws regulating which countries are eligible for US weapons assistance.
The announced three billion Saudi grant to the Lebanese army has bogged down partly due to French doubts about who created and are working covertly with Daash and how the funds should be spent. The route from Syria to Lebanon, despite Syrian government success last spring in taking control of some rebel areas in Qalamoun and around Qusair near Homs and other parts difficult to patrol areas of the Syrian-Lebanese border are still likely Syria to Lebanon 'jihadist fast-tracks' to be used by IS.
A compelling case might be made that Lebanon could use US weapons to confront IS. Who would ultimately end up with those arms is not clear. No nation is less threatened by ISIS than the US. As analyst Pat Buchanan recommends, "The Syrians, Turks, Kurds, Iranians and Iraqis have the proximity and manpower to defeat ISIS, they should do this job themselves." There are too many unanswered questions to make the decision to engage in another Middle East war now. There has been far too little public discussion in America about this issue for the White House to convince American to get behind what could be another disastrous military commitment.
The Lebanese army admits it can't stop ISIS and it's an open question if Hezbollah can. While the Party of God has had some success fighting rebels in parts of Syria, Aron Lund, a Swedish journalist and analyst who authored several reports on the Syrian opposition reported this week that ISIS "is very interested in setting Lebanon alight and confronting Hezbollah" as a way of drawing fighters to its burgeoning ranks. This observer has heard the same thing.
Hezbollah will likely seek to combat the growth of ISIS cells in Lebanon as well as preventing them from crossing the border. Lund claims that to date Hezbollah has fought only the enemies of ISIS and the Assad Regime, i.e. various rebel factions, but never has faced ISIS directly: "As far as I am aware, Hezbollah's main zones of influence in Syria are close to the Lebanese border, in Qalamoun and in the Qusair area, and in the capital Damascus, as well as in some Shiite communities elsewhere, such as in Busra al-Sham. These are not areas when ISIS has been operating so we do not know the results of a Daash-Hezbollah head-on battle." On 8/25/14, renewed fighting erupted in the Qalamoun border region, where Hezbollah fighters and Syrian regime forces are yet again locked in a fierce battle with rebels, but not yet with the rebels more serious enemy, ISIS.
There are aspects of the current crisis that surely need to be addressed in Beirut and Washington when making plans to undermine IS. On 8/27/14 Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam rightly criticized the tense political rhetoric among various political powers locally that in reality represent other countries, saying that "they do not help Lebanon in confronting the security danger of ISIS." One problem in keeping IS out of Lebanon is that the growing appeal of the jihadist organization to Sunni Muslims in Lebanon needs to be addressed with more than repetitive hot air political speeches. The Sunni-Shia deepening conflict is a growing problem and is spreading similar to the way thousands of would-be Sunni jihadists are flooding to IS recruitment and training camps.
Informed sources in Ein el Helwe Palestinian camp near Saida, report on what is happening there and in Lebanon's other eleven camps. Detailed discussions are being held by this observer and colleagues with Palestinian friends about who supports Daash in the camps. Subjects include why some Palestinians support them at all, what percentage of Sunni youth in Lebanon and in the camps are likely to join Daash if it comes to Lebanon, the effect on Sunni-Shia relations globally and how to destroy the magnet that today is drawing recruits to IS.
For Palestinians, a microcosm can be said to be that Lebanon's sects continue to deprive them of the basic civil right even to work and pressure are building not just for an intifada but for a jihadist revolt across Lebanon. Some politicians here who claim to support the Resistance promise to look into the "problem" when ISIS is destroyed. Of course this is putting the cart before the horse and lacks even the faintest credibility.
Most politicians and analysts in Lebanon express dismay at the rise of IS and growing support for it, despite its barbaric behavior. Others express surprise that such a group did not emerge years ago given the brutal and repressive Arab regimes, American wars in the region which in combination over the past nearly half-century have repressed their populations and left them with little hope of a better life for themselves and their children.
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