Winning: And The Winner In Syria Is


August 2, 2016: Like most wars, the one in Syria (since 2011) has had more losers than winners. Not just in Syria, but next door in Lebanon. Ironically, one of the only local powers to come out ahead is Israel. In theory everyone involved in the Syrian civil war (Islamic terrorists, the Syrian, government and Iran) should be fighting Israel. Instead they are killing each other and Israel stays out of it, expect to keep track of how many losses its many enemies are taking each month. So far it has been well over 100,000 fighting men, plus even more civilians, often related to the dead fighters.

Next door Lebanon has taken some losses as well, mainly among those groups that would normally be fighting Israel. While never an ally of Israel, many Lebanese would rather do business with Israel that make war on their more powerful (in a military and economic sense) neighbor. What has been going on in Lebanon since 2011 actually got started even earlier, in 2007, when Lebanon was forced to deal with the terrorists who were trying to establish themselves inside Lebanon. No, this wasn't about Hezbollah, but Palestinian terror groups, and non-Shia (Sunni Moslem and Christian) terrorist organizations. Early in 2007 one of the Palestinian terrorist gangs, Fatah Islam got into several gun battles with police. After a few days there were over a hundred dead and the police were trying to arrange a ceasefire rather than assault the Palestinian refugee camp at the center of it all and risk much higher casualties. This was the worst fighting inside Lebanon since the 1975-90 civil war ended.

It began as police raided a building while seeking men who had recently attempted to rob a bank. The house was also used by Fatah Islam, and that kicked off a series of gun battles that led to the siege of a Palestinian refugee camp, Nahr al Bared, in northern Lebanon, outside the port of Tripoli. The refugee camp contained some 36,000 Palestinians. As part of the peace deal that ended the 15 year Lebanese civil war in 1990, the Lebanese security forces promised not to enter Palestinian refugee camps. The Palestinians were supposed to police themselves. By and large, they did. But the camps were actually separate towns, surrounded by fences and guarded by Lebanese troops and police. As happened in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians were feuding among themselves. After 2011 Palestinian factions in Syria fought among themselves, leaving far more Palestinians dead than the Israelis ever killed.

Because most Arab states believe Israel must be destroyed and a Palestinian state established in its place, Palestinian refugees are rarely allowed to become citizens of the countries they are in. As permanent refugees, they have a hard time getting jobs, and get by mainly via foreign aid (with the United States being the largest contributor). Islamic radicalism has become popular among unemployed young men. It feels good to blame the West for all your problems, and to own a gun and be a badass outlaw.

The refugee camps became excellent hideouts for criminals, as long as they were Palestinian. These camps also became an excellent source of new recruits for Islamic terrorist groups. One of these was Fatah Islam, which was primarily interested in destroying Israel and anyone who opposed Fatah Islam. To make matters worse Fatah Islam was created in 2005 when more extreme members of the more mainstream (in a terrorist sense) Fatah decided to form a more extreme group. Fatah Islam was led by Islamic radicals who had been bouncing around the Middle East for years and had recently been forced to flee Iraq (where Palestinians were seen as untrustworthy foreigners). Fatah Islam was also affiliated with al Qaeda, and considered all non-Moslems as enemies, not to mention "heretical" Moslems like Shias and Druze (which, together, comprise over 40 percent of the Lebanese population.) Nearly 40 percent of Lebanese are Christian. So, not surprisingly, when bombs started going off in Christian neighborhoods in late 2005 an al Qaeda type group was suspected. There were several al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups in Lebanon, and not all of them are Palestinian. But Fatah Islam members were among the chief suspects in those attacks on Lebanese Christians. While al Qaeda groups attack Shia Moslems in many other parts of the world, they had shown restraint in Lebanon because so many Lebanese are Shia. Hezbollah is a major Shia group, and Syria (a Sunni country run by its Shia minority and backed by Shia powerhouse Iran) looks after Shia interests in Lebanon.

At the time there were nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and these Palestinians were not popular. It was fighting between Palestinian factions that ignited the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war, a conflict that trashed the country. The Syrian "peacekeepers", who entered the country in the late 1980s, were led by Shia officers and soon seen as occupiers and exploiters, and were only driven out in 2005. But Syria left much behind. During over two decades of occupation, Syria developed many business interests in Lebanon, not all of them legal. Many of those commercial connections remain. Syria also helped Palestinian terrorists, and in return, the Palestinians allowed their camps to become havens for al Qaeda terrorists.

When the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011 Iran ordered Hezbollah (which Iran created in the 1980s and has kept alive ever since with cash and weapons) to send thousands of their members into Syria to defend the hated (by most Lebanese) Assad government. While all these Hezbollah “volunteers” were Shia, they were also Lebanese and in general disliked Syria. This is partly because of the Syrian occupation but also because Syrians believe that Lebanon is part of “Greater Syria” and should belong to Syria. Nevertheless over a thousand Hezbollah men have died in Syria since 2011. That’s nearly as many as the 1,300 who have died fighting Israel since the late 1990s. The Hezbollah effort to defend the Syrian government made Hezbollah much less popular in Lebanon and forced Hezbollah to play down what Hezbollah forces were doing inside Syria and talk more about how Hezbollah is very active defending Lebanon’s borders from Islamic terrorist groups, especially ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), that are trying to set up bases on the Lebanese side of the border.




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