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A Preliminary Note on Developments in Lebanon

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have now entered the Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli in what may be a final push to route the Fatah Al-Islam jihadist group.  This move, although not directly related, comes fast on the heals of the UN Security Council passing Resolution 1757 to establish an international tribunal into the killings of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri and others.  I'm hoping in the next couple of days to post an extensive piece looking at what's behind the latest escalation in Lebanon and where it might lead, and believe me, the conspiracy theories on this one make Israel-Palestine look like a picnic in comparison.

Rafiq Hariri himself was known to have said, "In Lebanon, believe nothing of what you are told, and only half of what you see."  With so many cooks involved -- Americans, Iranians, Syrians, French, Saudis --, it is hardly surprising that the dish being served up in Lebanon right now, is not to anybody's liking.  There is a real threat of a spillover with a lot of attention being focused on the Ain al Hilwe camp in Sidon where additional Al-Qaeda inspired groups have a foothold.  There are strong suggestions of an element of blowback in the latest developments, following US and Saudi support for Sunni groups intended to counter Hezbollah.  I have reports, still to be confirmed, that the commander of the LAF was in Washington urging accelerated military assistance in the days leading up to the clashes at Nahr Al-Bared.

The passing of UNSCR 1757 establishing the tribunal is generally considered to be another lurch towards escalation between Lebanon's governing and opposition forces, but I wanted to share this counter-intuitive assessment.  The UN decision could actually have the effect of removing the obstacle of the Tribunal issue from the Lebanese domestic agenda for a period of time, and thereby help facilitate a renewed dialogue between the political forces that have been staring each other down for the last several months.  Several serious commentators have suggested that if the burning question of the Tribunal can now be circumvented, then the Hezbollah-Amal-Aoun coalition and the March 14th alliance might both find it easier to constructively engage.  An article in today's pro-opposition Lebanese daily as-Safir makes an interesting argument.  The as-Safir piece is by Wassef 'Awada, and the salient points are translated below, courtesy of Mideast Mirror (remember, this is coming from pro-opposition sympathies):

the pro-government camp... should launch [an] initiative that confirms... that the tribunal is not a victory for any one particular side.

The main fear is that a certain overconfidence might take hold of some in the [anti-Syrian and pro-government] March 14th camp or of some of their advisors, after the ‘victory’ achieved with the tribunal’s ratification.


Today, no one can deny the opposition’s concern at the tribunal– specifically Hizbollah’s – for fear that it might be used internationally for political aims and schemes. At the same time, neither the opposition nor anyone else can defend the assassins of Rafiq Hariri and his comrades, assuming that there is a genuine intention to use this tribunal as a judicial tool whose aim is justice, revealing the truth...

The pro-government camp holds the card of administering the government through a parliamentary majority that is reinforced by a high level of international backing. On the other hand, the opposition holds the card of being able to foil the normal administration of any government.


It is here that the pro-government camp’s responsibility arises. It should launch an initiative of a level that reassures the opposition and involves it in government... 


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Comments (3)


Well, there goes Ain al Hilwe. What's next?

The emergence of Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp exemplifies some of the complications of overlapping old and new features in societies transitioning from hierarchical structure. The fragility and unpredictability of societies in the process of a transition from a relatively simple hierarchical structure into something new may be exacerbated by the potential for an even greater degree of complexity (in the scientific sense of interdependent parts and counterintuitive behavior at the system level that emerges from behavior at the individual level) during the transition than after. Intervening in such a mess is easy; almost any intervention will have an impact. Knowing what the impact will be is the hard part. Given the effective impossibility of predicting the results of crude interventions in highly complex transitional situations, it may be more effective to intervene with finesse. Rather than trying to identify enemies to destroy, it may be more effective to focus on the socio-political context out of which they emerge, to ask how that context affects their behavior, and to alter that context to induce changes in the behavior of groups that are struggling to find roles for themselves in a highly confusing transitional situation.


I look forward to reading your "extensive piece looking at what's behind the latest escalation."

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Daniel Levy


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