Is Lebanon the next target for IS (Daash)?
International Lawyers to Obama:
Arms for Lebanon until Civil Rights for
By Franklin Lamb
3 September 2014
Mar Elias Palestinian Camp, Beirut
Lebanese politicians this late summer are consumed with what they habitually do best: wringing their hands and exclaiming ‘the sky is falling!’ while blaming other countries (along with local sects, each other, various religions, etc.) for DAASH, or ISIS, and the growing signs that it is headed 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 be invading Lebanon next month as some here are suggesting?
Several Lebanese political leaders are convinced it will and also doubt that Lebanon can stop them, given the thousands of young men said to be clawing their way to Syria and Iraq to join its ranks. The US Intelligence Community, comprised of 16 American intelligence agencies, leaked a memo to some in the US Congress estimating that IS will soon be able to field a 250,000-man army. On 8/28/14, media outlets in Lebanon quoted Education Minister Elias Bou Saab as announcing in the wake of a cabinet session, “Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq informed us that thousands of fighters supporting DAASH are on the Syria-Lebanon border awaiting orders to advance.”
Meanwhile, some Lebanese politicians are urging the Obama Administration, which they frequently vilify and blame for the mayhem in the region (not altogether unjustifiably), to send “swift military assistance to the Lebanese Army and security forces, to stop the Islamist threat faced by Lebanon.”
“The international community (should) overcome the traditional, protocol mechanism to meet Lebanon’s pressing weapons demands as soon as possible," said Nabih Berri, speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament.
Berri made that appeal on 8/26/14 in a meeting in Beirut with representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, Tom Fletcher, Britain’s ambassador to the country, U.S. Ambassador David Hale, and the French and Chinese chargés d’affaires, along with Derek Plumbly, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon.
On 8/29/14, the Pentagon was scheduled to deliver to Beirut airport some boots, gear and light ammunition—probably not quite what Berri was hoping for. But more than this should not be given to Lebanon until it complies with American laws regulating which countries are eligible for US weapons assistance.
The announced $3 billion Saudi grant to the Lebanese army has bogged down, partly due to French doubts about who created DAASH, and who presently may be covertly working with it, as well as how the funds should be spent. Despite Syrian government successes last spring in retaking control of Qalamoun, Qusayr, and other areas around its border with Lebanon, the region is still likely to contain some Syria-to-Lebanon “jihadist fast tracks” that can be accessed by ISIS.
Certainly a compelling case can be made that Lebanon could use US weapons to confront IS, but 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 who has authored several analyses on the Syrian opposition, reports this week that ISIS “is very interested in setting Lebanon alight and confronting Hezbollah,” this in the belief that such action will draw fighters to its burgeoning ranks
Lund, who also is affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment think tank, believes Hezbollah will employ the double strategy of seeking to combat the growth of ISIS cells in Lebanon while also preventing them from crossing the border—and he also claims that to date Hezbollah has fought only those rebel factions who are enemies of ISIS, and not the caliphate itself.
“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 Qusayr area, and in the capital Damascus, as well as in some Shiite communities elsewhere, such as in Busra al-Sham,” says Lund. “These are not areas where 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, along with Syrian government forces, are yet again locked in a fierce battle with rebels, though not, apparently, 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 local political players, those who in reality represent other countries, asserting that “they do not help Lebanon in confronting the security danger of ISIS.” The challenge before Lebanese leaders is that the jihadi organization’s growing appeal to Sunni Muslims in Lebanon needs to be addressed with more than repetitive, hot-air political speeches. The Sunni-Shia conflict is a deepening and growing problem, one likely to get worse as thousands of would-be Sunni jihadists flock to IS recruitment and training camps.
In Ain al-Hilweh camp, near Saida in southern Lebanon, detailed discussions have been held by this observer and colleagues with Palestinian friends regarding support for DAASH in the camps. Subjects include why some Palestinians even support the organization at all, and what percentage might be likely to join DAASH should it come to Lebanon, as well as the effect on Sunni-Shia relations globally and how to destroy the magnet that today is drawing recruits to IS.
The dilemma is compounded by the fact that Lebanon’s sects continue to deprive Palestinians of the basic civil right even to work, and pressure is 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 voice dismay at the rise of ISIS and its growing support, while others express surprise that such a group did not emerge years ago given the brutal and repressive Arab regimes combined with American wars in the region which 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 this or that country 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 that some know little if anything about Saudi Arabia or Wahhabism or could care less about the Koran. Generally agreed is that the most immediate issues giving rise to ISIS are three: a) the historic lack of dignity and freedom allowed to the Arab people by their dictatorial rulers and politicians; b) the Zionist occupation of Palestine; and c) the growing Sunni-Shia conflict and competition.
DAASH is similar in some ways to a malignant tumor or a virus. Like other brutal movements, it developed and metastasized from a combination of deprivation, despair, disenfranchisement, and humiliation, as well as lack of justice freedom and economic opportunity. Blaming one branch of Islam misses the point. Granted that 85% of Saudis, and a growing number of Muslims globally, while abhorring DAASH brutality, nonetheless 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 step—seemingly a modest one 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 here the elementary civil right to work. Given the nature of the current political power structure, this will widely be seen as a humanitarian act granted by the Shia community to their Sunni Palestinian sisters and brothers still trapped in Lebanon’s camps and 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 transfer of American arms to Lebanon to fight DAASH. American law prohibits 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 Palestinians of this fundamental right—a right enjoyed by every other refugee in the world, as well as by every foreigner whose foot touches the tarmac at Beirut airport upon arriving in 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 than even the 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 shipment of arms to nations that engage in consistent violations of human rights. Lebanon has for six decades engaged in “consistent violations of human rights” of Palestinian refugees, and furthermore it continues to expand its violations of international humanitarian law, as it did in 2001 when its Parliament outlawed home ownership for Palestinian refugees. US law could not be clearer on this point. It 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 Palestinians 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 under a rationale that 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 in 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’s lives positively, will.
To turn the ISIS tide, Lebanon’s best option is the investment of 90 minutes of Parliament’s 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 facilely bandied 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.