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Nir Rosen on Palestinians in Lebanon

Your assignment for Monday is to read Nir Rosen’s reporting on Sunni militants in Lebanon. The essay’s a rich—though likely as not incomplete—survey of the faces of Sunni militants in Lebanon. The grievances the Sunnis air to Rosen are legion and they are aired with excuses to match. To read them is to realize the centrality of Palestine to Middle Eastern politics and, I wager, to Middle Eastern stability. There is no guarantee such men would be assuaged if a peace accord were struck between Israel and Palestine—in fact, with these men, I think it very unlikely anything would change—but it would open up the possibility for calm, especially if it resulted in the dismantling of the refugee camps, hotbeds of anger that they are. In light of that tension, the stability that some promise will come from the “success” of Iraq War is nothing but a desert mirage.

 

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Rosen’s conclusion is chilling:

Until that happens, Palestinians and all of Lebanon are at great risk. As Iraq becomes a less hospitable place for jihadists and foreign fighters, and as there are fewer American targets to go after, these veterans, experienced at fighting the most advanced army in the world, will look for new battles. Andrew Exum, a former U.S. army officer who led a platoon of light infantry in Afghanistan in 2002 and Army Rangers in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been studying militant Islamist groups. “The fighting in Nahr al Barid is, unfortunately, just the first round in what I fear will be a series of battles fought in the aftermath of the Iraq War,” he says. “On Internet chat rooms, we’re seeing militants turn away volunteers to go fight in Iraq and promising the next fight will be in Lebanon and the Gulf. Lebanon, especially, is a magnet for Sunni extremists,” he says. “You not only have a haven for these groups in the Palestinian camps, with security services from rival Arab states competing for their loyalty and attention, you also have two tempting targets: both the pro-Western ruling coalition in Beirut, as well as the opposition, led by a powerful block of Shia parties. How can we not expect these Sunni militants, who have spent the past four years waging war on the Shia of Iraq, to try and carry that fight on to the large, politically active Shia population in Lebanon? Or on to the pro-Western regime that precariously hangs onto power?”

It is common for American politicians—John McCain chief among them—to warn against ending the Iraq War lest the region descend to bloodshed. But that ignores the likelihood that the war itself has increased the chance of regional instability or that, indeed, “success” in Iraq might in fact have the unintended consequence the failure of everywhere else.