Pressures Mount for a Palestinian-Hezbollah War in Lebanon
Ain el Helweh camp, Lebanon
It isn’t just the Zionist regime still occupying Palestine six decades after the Nakba; one can sense the carnivorous drooling from Tel Aviv to Amman, from Riyadh and the Gulf Kingdoms all the way to Washington DC and beyond—drooling and salivation over the current tensions between the Palestinian Resistance and what is in some respects its historic offspring—Hezbollah.
The hostile forces gathered against the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah-Palestine Resistance alliance are hard at work on yet another project to weaken, and possibly destroy, all four. It won’t be easy, but it is reportedly a key game plan among those still seeking regime change in Syria.
Even as some of these governments deceptively play down their central goal of regime change in public, they appear to be fantasizing that by building up the Lebanese army—with a pledged $3 billion from Riyadh—that Lebanese troops can be induced to confront Hezbollah and its allies, this in what seems to be a “beat em or bleed em” strategy.
Patrick Cockburn, writing recently in the UK Independent and Counterpunch, gave a digest of anti-Shia hate propaganda being spread by Sunni religious figures, clerics financially backed by, and in some cases based in, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies. Cockburn noted accurately that what is being painstaking laid is the groundwork for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world.
Efforts to egg on a confrontation between Palestinians and Hezbollah have increased over the past three months in Lebanon’s camps, stemming principally from some of the local Sunni and Christian power centers. Support is being seen for various “militia of the month” groups, those terrorizing the population of the Syrian Arab Republic, while the remaining Palestinians in Yarmouk camp in Damascus, now numbering about 17,000 out of what was a population of 250,000 in March of 2011, continue to be essentially imprisoned without food and medical care.
This is not to say that tensions have never existed between a small percentage of the Palestinians in Lebanon and a few disparate factions within Hezbollah and its allies—the Amal Movement and Michele Aoun’s, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Aoun is among the most anti-Palestinian of the Christian warlords, and in the view of some he is the principle reason Hezbollah has not pushed for Palestinians to be afforded the right to work and own a home in Lebanon. As for Amal, this Shia ally of Hezbollah is widely believed to have killed more Palestinians in Lebanon during the 1985-88 camp massacres (it would be a misnomer to call them “wars” as the camps were basically defenseless) than Zionists have in the past 60 years. To this day, many Palestinians take deep umbrage at Amal posters placed outside Shatila and other camps, since the longtime Amal leader pictured on them is despised by Palestinians in Lebanon almost universally as having given the orders to slaughter so many of them. Yet attempts to remove the posters risk a backlash from the Amal armed militia that occupies part of Shatila. The Sunni and Shia populations in the camps largely co-exist in a tense but generally peaceful juxtaposition with refugees from Syria, but it’s not the quality of relations that obtained before the Syria crisis began and before Hezbollah’s involvement in that crisis.
Total Palestinian support for the “National Lebanon Resistance” led by Hezbollah is also viewed as questionable by some. Evidence has emerged of individual Palestinians supporting anti-Hezbollah militia forces and political parties in Lebanon, and camp officials have admitted that a small number of Palestinians go and return to Syria to fight against the Assad regime. And then there are some who are close to Hezbollah who claim that many Palestinians don’t appreciate the fact that the organization is the main supporter of their cause to return to Palestine, saying Palestinians are ingrates for all that Hezbollah does for them. The rebuttals to this include that regrettably Hezbollah has done little for Palestinians living in Lebanon’s camps, and that it has not used its political power to force Lebanon to comply with international law and grant elementary civil rights to Palestinians, including the rights to work and to own a home.
Against this backdrop, Al-Nusra Front leader Abou Mohammed al-Jawlani insists his organization is active on Lebanese soil in order to help the Sunnis, including Palestinians, face the “injustice” of Shiite Hezbollah. “Lebanon’s Sunni are requesting that the mujahideen intervene to lift up the injustice they are suffering from at the hands of Hezbollah and similar militias,” he said recently in an interview on Al-Jazeera.
Shiite-populated areas across Lebanon have been the target of terror attacks since Hezbollah entered the fighting on the side of the Syrian regime in May. Three car bombings have targeted southern Beirut in recent months, while a number of IED attacks have occurred in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
The head of the Islamic Jihadist Movement in Ain al-Hilweh camp voiced fears on January 8 of a possible armed sectarian confrontation between Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon if the party did not revise its policies at home and in Syria. Sheikh Jamal Khattab told the Daily Star that should fighting erupt between Palestinians and Hezbollah the conflict could be even worse than the “war of the camps” (read: massacres) of the 1980s. That conflict was not considered particularly sectarian in that it had been a case of the Amal Shia forces attacking the largely Sunni Palestinians, but with Hezbollah intervening to help end it and thus protecting the Palestinian civilian population. Today, says Sheikh Khattab, it would be different. Today it would be a Sunni vs. Shia war, with regional and international consequences, given the poisonous sea-change in sectarian relations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In Ain al-Hilweh and other camps, posters of local men killed while fighting alongside Syrian rebels, or against U.S. troops in Iraq, are tacked up throughout the camp. Lebanese security sources claim that Palestinian Islamist groups in Ain al-Hilweh have all finalized preparations to defend Sidon against any attack by Hezbollah’s organized and trained “Resistance Brigades.” These organizations include Usbat al-Ansar, Jund al-Sham, Fatah al-Islam, and other Salafist groups, and supporters of the controversial fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, and rumors abound that some of these elements are being financed by certain of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as some Lebanese pro-Western March 14 parties. Apparently the consideration among such groups and their sponsors is that conditions in Lebanon are ripe for an expanded war against “Shia infidels,” and reportedly plans are now in place to bring it here, with several groups that are now fighting in Syria pledging to widen the Sunni-Shia war into Lebanon.
The Palestinian Follow-Up Committee, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Fatah and the Palestinian National Security Forces have all strongly condemned accusations against Ain al-Hilweh camp in the wake of the assassination of ex-Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah, calling such accusations haphazard and irresponsible. People are reminded as well of the tight grip the army continues to maintain over Nahr al Bared, near Tripoli in the north of Lebanon. Based on interviews by this observer with residents of Ain el-Helweh, there clearly can be found there supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades among others. But one finds this across Lebanon, especially in Sunni areas. Officials claim that while they cannot prevent anyone from joining the fighting in Syria, all Palestinian groups in Lebanon and Syria and elsewhere have consistently maintained a policy of non-involvement in the Syrian crisis. Even so, criticism of Hezbollah’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad remains.
For their part, some pro-Hezbollah groups and many Lebanese citizens are suspicious of possible Palestinian involvement in recent terror attacks in Dahiyeh and the recent bombing of the Iranian Embassy. In point of fact, one of the two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian Embassy on November 17 was Mouin Abu Dahr, a known pro-Palestinian whose mother is a Shiite and his father a Sunni. Ain al-Hilweh of course has also been in the spotlight with the arrest of Majid al-Majid, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Majid is believed to have lived in the camp since 2012.
Clearly Israel and its new—as well as its longtime—allies seek a Sunni-Shia war, and the sooner the better. Also favored is a continuation of the Syria crisis for the reason that they consider Hezbollah to be squandering some of its best fighters and commanders and well as its weapons stores. Western Diplomats have spoken about US-Israeli hopes that Syria will be Hezbollah’s Achilles heel and Iran’s Vietnam, and Israeli media have commented on views by some officials that Hezbollah has shifted its attention toward Syria and away from the southern front with occupied Palestine.
Time will tell.
Hezbollah maintains it is using only five percent of its capacity to confront Israel, and according to one source close to the Resistance:
Hezbollah has self-sufficiency when it comes to the missiles, strategic and non-strategic weapons. All these weapons are quite abundant. Any additional equipment will constitute a negative factor because there is no need for them. All the weapons that are manufactured by Iran or owned by Syria are also available for Hezbollah. The land forces and the Special Forces fighting in Syria have acquired a lot of practical and intelligence related experience and a force of maneuvering on the land. This experience will be used when the war with Israel begins again.
The Sunni and the Shia, just as with the Palestinians and Hezbollah, need each other for many reasons, including confronting growing Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate propaganda, and the deepening and broadening apartheid occupation of Palestine.
All must work to tamp down their differences publicly and privately while endeavoring to neutralize sectarian provocateurs, Sunni as well as Shia—domestic and regional as well as international—provocateurs that today are seeking internecine and sectarian violence in order to weaken both sects, and even all of Islam.