Oct 1st 2014

Lebanon: The Forgotten Front

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

While the world's attention has been focused on the combined efforts of Arab and US forces attacking "Islamic State" (IS) positions in Iraq and Syria, there is unfolding in Lebanon, a third front in the war against this violent extremist group. This third front has received scant attention. Because Lebanon has been so overwhelmed by the fallout from Syria's civil war, aggravating the country's fragile sectarian balance, the threat of IS poses an existential challenge that must not be ignored.

Despite being the smallest of Syria's neighbors, Lebanon is currently hosting 40% of Syria's refugees. With a population of just under 4 million citizens, the presence of 1.2 million displaced Syrians means that nearly one in every four persons currently residing in Lebanon is a Syrian. This is causing severe stress on Lebanon's resources and its social order. While the refugees are dispersed across the country in over 1,600 locations, some Lebanese towns have been completely overwhelmed by Syrians with the impact being felt in severe shortages in housing, medical services, water, and electricity. Classrooms are overcrowded. And with the refugees willing to work for less pay, many Lebanese are now finding themselves priced out of the job market. 

The international community has been generous in providing support to the refugee population—though far short of the needs that exist. But the host communities have not received adequate support to provide for Lebanese who have been negatively impacted by the surge of refugees. All of this has caused enormous stress country-wide.

In June of 2012, all of Lebanon's political groups agreed on a policy of "disassociation"— pledging not to become involved in Syria's war. While individual Lebanese crossed the border to fight either for or against the Assad government, the first formal break in the "disassociation" policy came with Hizbollah's entry into the Syrian war in 2013. While Hizbollah's justifications for their action varied from protecting Shi'a holy places from being overrun by Sunni extremists to supporting their ally in Damascus, the net result was to aggravate Lebanon's Sunni population thereby aggravating the country's sectarian fissures.

Over the past year, Lebanon has been on a low boil. There have been mass bombings in both Shi'a and Sunni neighborhoods and not a day goes by without reports of small scale, but still lethal, sectarian attacks.

The most dangerous situation, to date, is unfolding in Lebanon's northeast - in the border town of Arsal. As a result of the Syrian war, Arsal's Lebanese population of 35,000 swelled to over 100,000 souls. Preying off of the obvious discontent created by this untenable situation, a combined force of Jabhat al Nusra (the al Qaida affiliate) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overran Arsal in early August. A week later, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) reestablished control, driving out the two militant groups. Losses were great—19 LAF soldiers died in the battle, and 38 were captured. Since then, a terrifying and dangerous drama has unfolded, with the extremists threatening to behead the captives unless the LAF withdrew.  

It is important to note that the LAF is held in high esteem among all sectors of Lebanese society. It is Lebanon's one truly national institution with near equal portions of Sunni and Shia in uniform, joined by a substantial number of Christians. A recent poll showed that while the public gave extremely low single digit favorable ratings to their parliament and government, 70% gave a positive rating to their army. 

The extremists have ruthlessly exploited the captives calling the soldiers' families telling them to pressure the LAF to withdraw from Arsal and then engaging in public executions of the soldiers, one at a time, to demonstrate their cruelty and resolve. Lebanese officials have decried this barbaric display and have complained that some elements of the Lebanese media have contributed to the extremists' efforts by sensationalizing the parents' appeals.

To date, three LAF have been executed, but the army and government have withstood the pressure and refused to surrender Arsal back to the control of the terrorist groups. As one Lebanese official recently put it, "the choice they are giving us is to trade 38 captives for the entire city of Arsal."

Lebanon has signed on as a partner in the Arab and US coalition to combat the Islamic State. But they won't be fighting in Syria or Iraq. They have their own front in this war. Their efforts need recognition and international support. The LAF requires advanced weaponry to fight more effectively. And Lebanon requires much more assistance to provide not only for the massive influx of refugees but for Lebanon's host communities.

It would be a tragic if in the process of combating the IS presence in Iraq and Syria the world ignored Lebanon thus allowing IS to gain a foothold in that country or allowing the tactics of ISIL or Jabhat al Nusra to provoke tensions within Lebanon thereby sparking a sectarian civil war. The key to avoiding either outcome is to strengthen the LAF so that it can control the country's borders and to demonstrate to the Lebanese people that the world is attentive to their plight.       

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "