One key premise from previous posts was that Iran and Syria were renewing their efforts to weaken the Lebanese government through Hezbollah power plays. Not much question there. I further tied the timing of this to the recent worsening of Iran's fortunes in Iraq with Maliki's government successfully pushing back against Mahdi Army, and the growing impatience of Iraqis with the meddling of Tehran in their affairs. Given the compelling evidence of Hezbollah's influence with the Shiite portions of the Iraqi 'insurgency,' it doesn't seem to be an unwarranted leap to suggest that Iran and Syria may be trying to reestablish the initiative on another front. Where I think I really jumped the rails on this point was in my overly simplistic depiction of the political landscape of Lebanon, in particular the short shrift I gave to the Druze and Christians in their ability to fend off the aggression of forces like Hezbollah, if sufficiently provoked, as Michael Totten summarizes in an article for Commentary Magazine:
Far less attention has been paid to Hezbollah's military and strategic failure in the Chouf mountains southeast of Beirut where Lebanon's Druze community lives. Hezbollah picked a major fight there and lost. After three days of pitched battles, its gunmen were unable to conquer a single village--even when they brought out mortars and heavy artillery.This would appear to argue pretty forcefully that Hezbollah would be unwise to overplay its hand in Lebanon, especially after having demonstrated with very little room for ambiguity that its claims to be a Lebanese resistance force and social movement are little more than window dressing for its true ambitions. I think the impression I mistakenly gleaned, and embedded in my posts, was that the resistance within Lebanon to what will likely be seen (accurately) as a blatant Syrian/Iranian stratagem would be weak and scattered. I have no idea if such resistance would be strong enough to galvanize the various factions in defense of Lebanese sovereignty, but I think I was overly pessimistic in projecting that such resistance would almost surely be inadequate to the task.
The Druze are among the fiercest of warriors, and everyone in Lebanon knows it. They are well-known in Israel, too, where they often serve in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces and suffer lower-than-average casualty rates in battles with Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Most of Israel's Sunni Arabs abstain from military service, but Druze Arabs are as loyal to the Israeli state, and are as willing and able to fight for it, as their Lebanese counterparts are in their own country. There's a reason two of the Middle East's religious minorities--Maronite Christians and Druze--live in Lebanon's mountains in significant numbers: attempts to invade and subjugate them are ill-advised, very likely to fail, and therefore rarely attempted by even large armies.
Another point on which I believe I erred was in projecting too confidently that al Qaeda would find fertile ground for injecting itself into the Lebanese theater on behalf of the Sunnis. While it was evident as long ago as 2003 that Salafist Jihadi factions were developing disturbingly unmolested footholds in parts of Lebanon, especially in the lawless Palestinian refugee camps, it has also been shown that the landscape in which they might function is more complex and treacherous than they would like:
Al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq have alienated some of their most natural supporters through their unusually brutal tactics. Although it is too early to predict whether they will repeat this pattern in Lebanon, the Palestinians have shown a preliminary willingness to act against al-Qaeda operatives. In April 2004, Fatah forces in Lebanon arrested a Saudi al-Qaeda affiliate who had come to Ein el-Hilweh from Syria. Fatah has also skirmished with members of Asbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham (a splinter of Asbat) in Ein el-Hilweh, most recently at the beginning of January 2006. The January al-Qaeda warning for Palestinians to "return to Islam" and threats to "eliminate" Palestinian leaders will only escalate hostilities.Now, if there is one thing that al Qaeda operatives have demonstrated again and again, it is their chronic inability to rein in their most brutal tactics in their quest for domination. It is entirely possible that the indigenous Palestinian and other groups will not take kindly to foreign-backed Jihadists' ravening appetite to usurp the authority of any groups they deem less pure (basically, anyone).
Make no mistake, though: al Qaeda has Lebanon squarely in its cross-hairs. This post from the Counterterrorism Blog, resolves some of the apparent contradictions in the volatile coexistence of Sunni and Shiite terror groups within Lebanon:
The [directly al Qaeda-linked Palstinian splinter group] Fatah al Islam is the latest marriage of convenience between a group of committed Jihadists, rotating in the al Qaeda’s constellation but gravitating around Damascus influence. The group accepts Bashar’s support and the Syrian regime tolerates the organization’s “Sunni” outlook: Both have a common enemy, even though they may come at each other’s throats in the future. The men of Bin Laden anywhere in the world, including in Lebanon, have the same standing order: Bringing down the moderate Arab and Muslim Governments (even in multiethnic societies) and replace them with Emirates. The men of Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinijad have converging goals, bring down the democratically elected Government in Lebanon and replace it with a Hizbollah-Syrian dominated regime, as was the case before 2005. Thus each “axis” has one objective in Lebanon: crush the Seniora Government. They will take all their time to fight each other after.
That this is very explicitly on the agenda of the senior-most al Qaeda leadership is beyond question, as this article from US News and World Report concludes:
The nearly perfect conditions for an al Qaeda-like outbreak of violence in Lebanon have not been missed by the group's senior leadership. On April 22, al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri suggested the Middle East's most liberal and diverse nation could play an important role in the ongoing conflict with the West. "Lebanon is a Muslim frontline fort," he said. "It will have a pivotal role, God willing, in future battles with the Crusaders and the Jews.Having been so roundly humiliated in their play to subjugate Iraq, al Qaeda's leaders desperately need to re-establish some cred in another theater. I expect they are banking on the fractious nature of Lebanese populations and politics, coupled with the ever-popular effort to undermine Israel and target its maddeningly prosperous civilians, to bootstrap them back to something resembling the force they once were. If recent history is any reliable indication of how they fare against concerted resistance, however, they may be in for another rude Awakening.
"I call upon the jihadist generation in Lebanon to prepare to reach Palestine and to banish the invading Crusader forces which are claimed to be peacekeeping forces in Lebanon," he said, in reference to the United Nations peacekeepers on Lebanon's southern border with Israel.
I trust that my hypothetical readers will forebear my imperfect and evolving understanding of this dauntingly complicated front in this Long War. The more I have learned about Lebanon, the less inclined I have been to flagellate myself overmuch for getting much of it wrong. It is the solemn duty of armchair analysts such as myself, however, to consume as much information as possible, and to let go my ego as new data make dodos of even my most confident formulations. Let us hope that our foes are quite a bit less willing to abandon the narratives and methods which have failed them so satisfyingly so far.