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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 claiming they are convinced that it will and also doubt Lebanon can stop them given the thousands of young men 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 army with possible limitless numbers 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.
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 can be made Lebanon could use US weapons to confront IS. Who would ultimately end up with those arms is not clear. 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. 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.
Some well-known and well-paid water carriers for one country or another are flooding the internet with odd claims that no one can possibly understand ISIS unless they first study the evils of Saudi Wahabism. Frankly, this is inaccurate. While there is plenty of abuse in the KSA and regime change is surely coming to the vast Wahabist royal family, the reasons for the ISIS incubation and success lie elsewhere. This observer has spoken with enough Daash young men to have learned that a surprising number are not all that religious and care less about the Koran or know much, if anything about Saudi Arabia or Wahhabism. It is generally agreed that the fundamental and immediate issues giving rise to IS type groups in this region are three. The historic lack of dignity and freedom allowed to the Arab people by their dictatorial rulers and politicians, the Zionist occupation of Palestine and the growing Sunni-Shia conflict and competition.
Daash is similar in some ways to a malignant tumor or a virus which like other brutal movements, developed and metastasized from despair, disenfranchisement, humiliation, lack of justice, and deprived of freedom or economic opportunity. Blaming one branch of Islam misses the point. Granted that 85% of Saudi’s, and a growing number of Muslims globally, while abhorring Daash brutality feel that elements of Sharia law should be incorporated into the predominant western secular system of law, morality, and human rights. They are right in this observers view.
To stop IS from taking hold in a major way in Lebanon, politicians here, including Sunni and Shia political parties, need to reach out to each other and be seen as serious in their calls for ‘dialogue’. Iran has a role to play. So does Saudi Arabia.
One seemingly modest, but in reality a major remedial action that can be taken immediately to thwart IS plans for domination of Lebanon is to grant the 220,000 Palestinians in Lebanon the elementary civil rights to work. Given the nature of the current political power structure in Lebanon this will be widely seen as a humanitarian act granted by the Shia community to their Sunni Palestinian sisters and brothers still trapped in Lebanon’s camp, waiting for Resistance forces to help with their Full Return to their own country, Palestine.
This long overdue act will bring Lebanon into compliance with US laws to allow the legal transfers of American arms to Lebanon to fight Daash. American laws prohibit the transfer of US arms to countries that engage in serial violations of human rights which Lebanon has done for decades with respect to outlawing the right to work to Palestinian refugees. No other country on earth, including the Zionist apartheid regime still occupying Palestine deprives Palestinian of this fundamental birthright. Rights enjoyed by every other refugee in the world and every foreigner whose foot touches the tarmac at Beirut airport on arrival to this claimed democracy and signatory to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Moreover, the Shia led Resistance reaching out to the Sunni Palestinians caged in Lebanon’s camps, gasping for air these torrid humid days in worse conditions even than camps in Gaza will indelibly stamp an historic imprimatur to the Resistance victory in Gaza of August 2014.
Within this context it is appropriate to consider whether the US government, based on international and domestic law, is obligated to cut military aid and cease the transfer of weapons to Lebanon.
According to the International Law Commission (ILC), the official UN body that codifies customary international law, “A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State” (Article 16 of the International Law Commission, “Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts,” (2001) which were commended by the General Assembly, A/RES/56/83).
Section 502B of the US Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” And section 4 of the Arms Export Control Act prohibits the shipments arms to nations that engage is consistent violations of human rights. Lebanon has for six decades engaged in “consistent violations of human rights” of Palestinian refugees and continues to expand its violations of international humanitarian law as in 2001 when its Parliament outlawed home ownership for Palestinian refugees. US law could not be clearer on this point and authorizes the supply of US military equipment and training only for lawful purposes including applying international laws that protect refugees and allow them to seek a job until they are able to return home.
Given the Obama administration’s failure, to date, to hold Lebanon accountable for its violations of US laws, it has become complicit in the violation of the most basic civil rights of Palestinian in Lebanon. The General Assembly of the United Nations imposed an embargo on the export of arms to the apartheid regime in South Africa during the second half of the last century, which fully applies to the situation of Palestinians in the face of repeated Lebanese violations of the right to work and to own a home.
American arms to Lebanon and/or to every country is this region will not defeat ISIS, staunch its growing support or turn the masses against it. Justice will. Granting citizens dignity, economic opportunity, the ability to impact their and their children own lives positively will.
To turn the ISIS tide, Lebanon’s best initiative is the investment of 90 minutes of Parliaments time to grant elementary civil rights to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. This simple humanitarian act, required by US Arms Export laws and international humanitarian law would lend some credence to claims of “our religious, moral, political, Arab Nationalist and Resistance obligation which is our bloodstream cause” that one hears so facially brandied about across elements of the Lebanese political spectrum.
It is long overdue for Lebanese politicians to grant Palestinian refugees the elementary civil rights to work and to own a home. They must do it now.
Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).