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Raghida Dergham Headshot

Al-Qaida is Partners with the De Facto Power in the Wars of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine

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High-level American military sources with deep knowledge of the Gulf,
the Middle East and North Africa expect that Lebanon will be the
leading and most important destination for the flight of al-Qaida
volunteers and their like. This will not be in the wake of an American
withdrawal from Iraq, but as of now. The reason for this is that these
forces are searching for headquarters to wage new battles in the war
of terrorism to head off an American escalation against them in Iraq,
or in the event of a US withdrawal, which will leave them without a
direct confrontation with "the enemy." And since "the "enemy" of the
US is mercurial, in terms of a definition, and in terms of the mood of
the US leadership, the flight from Iraq will branch out and head in
directions such as the Horn of Africa and North Africa. However, the
coming destination, in the estimation of leading military figures,
will be Lebanon. Thus, it would useful for Hizbullah to give the
matter some attention, since the volunteers from al-Qaida and
affiliated groups are determined to benefit from the strategy of
Hizbullah and its Syrian partner. This strategy is based on hindering
the Lebanese State, paralyzing and bringing it down at the hands of
militias and enhancing their role in the Lebanese arena. This will
cost Hizbullah and its fighters a very steep price, while offering
Lebanon as a sacrifice to the authoritarian aspirations of this party
and the aspirations of hegemony by its two partners, Iran and Syria.
The neighboring states of Syria and Israel might do well to think
farther than their dance of mutual interests at the expense of
Lebanon. The little wolf that they are raising in their neighborhood
might turn into a monster that turns on them, because it will move
away from what they believe to be their joint control over it. Thus,
this phase of wars, terror, proxy wars and wars of priority require a
mix of temporary divorce and phased marriage between the combustible
issues in the Middle East, i.e. Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. Putting
these issues on the table of American interest itself has produced
fierce battles in the balance of responsibility and prioritization,
whether local, regional or international. The concerned parties must
understand things, when one of them adopts the tactic of "the forest
before the trees," as long as this involves tactics, and is not a
substitute for a strategy of "losing the forest for the trees."

Let's tackle things without mincing words. The Palestine issue is a
central one in the politics, mind, thought and emotion of Arabs and
Muslims. However, Palestine is not the only issue in the Arab world,
but does not represent a "cause" in the traditional sense, as Arabs
and Muslims are used to. Among the most important reasons for this are
the inter-Palestinian divisions and wars. The Palestinian issue is
political, and is central, and should be given priority because it is
extremely important in and of itself, and because in the emotions,
mind and thought of Arabs, it is evidence of the extent of American
double standards or honesty of American objectives in the Middle East.
It is the cause of a people groaning underneath an exhausting Israeli
occupation, which has enjoyed US protection for several decades.

Moderate Arab countries have once again delivered to the Jordanian
monarch a message of the necessity of pushing for a solution to the
Palestinian issue now, to relay it to the American president. This is
what King Abdullah II did during his meeting with President George W
Bush last Tuesday. Those informed about the atmosphere of the meetings
said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her team were
working seriously to ensure that an international peace conference,
which Bush recently announced, is "meaningful and significant." The
conference, scheduled to be held in November in the US, will play a
big role, either in enhancing and activating direct negotiations
between Palestinians and Israelis, if they have begun, or in seriously
pushing them to begin. The important thing is that these negotiations
will be about a final status solution, in the estimation of those
aware of these meetings. This in itself represents a new
accomplishment and development, since the answer in the past has been
that the circumstances weren't ripe yet for such negotiations, or that
the Palestinians had to submit a certificate of good behavior as a
prior condition for talks.

Convening a conference, at an invitation from Bush and chaired by
Rice, will present an opportunity for moderate countries -- Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan and others -- to put forward a working
plan that pushes for an international conference that accelerates
movement on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations about final status, with
dates and phases that give Palestinians true responsibility, so that
the Palestinian Authority can make cohesive, quick and big strides
when it comes to commitments and implementing the building of
institutions that can preserve security and political authority. The
plan would inform Israel that there is a serious readiness to support
negotiation toward solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,
coexistence, and the normalization of ties with moderate Arab and
Muslim countries. At the same time, there is no mood, readiness or
desire by moderates to accept stalling, procrastination and an Israeli
flight from peace and its challenges.

A portion of this message, which the Jordanian king relayed to the US
president, dealt with expectation in the ranks of moderates about US
policies, and the existence of an opportunity that should not be lost,
since Arab and Muslim moderates are important allies in the battle
against extremism and the war against terror. No one will volunteer to
sit with Israel at a conference or meeting as long as Israel offers
only "plastic surgery" and deficient steps, such as releasing a
handful of dollars of Palestinian Authority tax revenues, or releasing
a handful of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. What the
American president and his team heard was that the climate and mood in
the region will not tolerate holding a conference merely for the sake
of holding a conference. The failure to exploit this opportunity now,
to take advantage of what moderate countries are offering, will waste
a rare opportunity for this administration and the US, as well as for
the Middle East as a whole.

In other words, the US president must be fully aware that prompting
Israel to treat the Palestinian-Israeli conflict serves as a
fundamental step for America's higher interests in the Middle East,
and an indivisible part of the war that the American president says he
is waging against extremism and terror. Treating the Palestinian issue
and solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not set down limits
for the total war against al-Qaida and the like; however, these steps
will certainly remove a good part of the hesitation the Arab and
Muslim public when it comes to American intentions. These two steps
will lead this segment of public opinion to a necessary alliance with
the forces that are standing up to the forces of destruction and
terror. Thus, when the leaders of moderate states stress the
centrality of the Palestinian issue to the American president, they
are not abandoning Iraq or working against it, but rather for the sake
of this country. The firm American focus on Iraq enjoys a strong and
effective wing of support within the administration, for political
reasons. This group does not want to pressure Israel to solve the
Palestinian issue. Meanwhile, the group that calls for assigning
importance to Palestine sees a link between what is taking place in
Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, and it is pushing for an effective
American role when it comes to Palestine and Lebanon, and not an
obsession with Iraq and terror, which blinds one to the policies that
are necessary to help Iraq.

This, of course, does not deny the rights of Iraq and its government,
or its responsibility to keep Iraq a leading priority for the US, the
world, the Islamic world and the Middle East. Iraq's foreign minister,
Hoshyar Zebari, has every right to focus, for example, on lobbying for
an American-Iranian or American-Syrian dialogue over Iraq, regardless
of whether this dialogue will have a negative impact on Lebanon, or
will not serve the Palestine issue. For him, the priority is as it
should be: seeing this dialogue influence Iraq and seeing its
repercussions for the horrible sufferings of his country. He is not
putting forward Iraq as a hostage until solutions for Palestine and
Lebanon are found, and he has the right to do this. He is his
country's foreign minister, and even if he has opinions about linking
or not linking these issues, he is doing his duty as Iraq's foreign
minister, and focusing on the demands of these duties.

The new Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations, Nawaf Salam, sees
the opposite as being correct. Thus, he informs those who ask him
about how what has been offered to Lebanon can be preserved by saying
that the Palestinian question must be solved, and America must
acknowledge its mistakes in Iraq. He is completely wrong in this
academic style of diplomacy, since Lebanon at this juncture requires
that it should represent a decisive priority for the world body, not
just for its ambassador, but for all of his accredited colleagues.

Currently the UN is unable to adopt the Iraqi issue -- inheriting a
destroyed, fragmented Iraq after the occupation that it opposed, and
an American military action that it considered illegal. The role that
the UN can play in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle is a secondary
one, at this juncture, because of the centrality of the US role in
finding a solution to the conflict. Lebanon is another matter. It is
an international project in which the UN plays the biggest role, since
it has adopted historical resolutions about Lebanon, and is
responsible for the international court to try those involved in
political assassinations. The UN is tasked with finding mechanisms to
control Lebanon's borders, so that arms don't find their way to
Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, thanks to Syrian or Iranian
decisions. The UN also has peacekeeping troops in the south, on the
borders with Israel. Strengthening and enhancing these mechanisms and
pushing for the creation of an international court as quickly as
possibly are the answers that are being awaited from the Lebanese
ambassador to the UN, not comments that turn Lebanon into an adjunct
that awaits a solution in Palestine or the acknowledgment of failure
in Iraq.

Lebanon contains one possible success perhaps, for the UN and the US,
not just as a project and model of democracy, with support from the
outside world; but as a historic arena in the conflict between the
State and the militias, between moderation and extremism, between
building and destroying. Anyone who represents Lebanon in
international forums should point to the threats awaiting this country
from its neighbors on its borders, and from the volunteers arriving
from Iraq, helped by the country lying between Iraq and Lebanon. It is
a political and diplomatic war, not an academic one that is served by
delivering lectures and acting from a sense of superiority.

The local leader of this war, Hizbullah, is acting tenaciously and
predictably, in order to hinder and paralyze the State, so it cannot
be blamed for igniting a military conflict or civil war that does away
with the State. Hizbullah receives arms from Iran via Syria and is
proud of its rockets, informing everyone concerned that the party
holds the power of decision-making in its hand; if it does not
activate this option, in return it activates the options of
suppressing and reducing the power of the State. The message is that
Hizbullah holds the keys to seeing the Lebanese Parliament go back to
work, or leaving it locked up, thanks to a decision by its ally,
Speaker Nabih Berri. The party is able to paralyze the presidency of
the Republic by leaving in office its other ally, Emile Lahoud, who is
totally subservient to Syria. Amid the international rejection of
allowing this party to bring down the legitimately elected government
headed by Fouad Siniora, Hizbullah's leader, secretary-general Hassan
Nasrallah, has only to obstruct, domestically, the institutions of
democratic rule in the country.

Hamas tried to get rid of the Palestinian Authority via a military
coup. Hizbullah is currently working to bring down the Lebanese
government via civil disobedience and obstructing the State, while
reserving the right to spark wars, if the orders or approval come from
its foreign allies in Damascus and Tehran. Both Hamas and Hizbullah
are being contained, like their allies in Tehran and Damascus, in
their own ways. The common denominator for the coming phase of this
containment might see this temporary partner, as represented by the
volunteers from the Iraq war, and the al-Qaida types, which are
branching out in all directions.

In addition to the international court, there are violations on the
arms ban imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, under Chapter
7 of the UN Charter. There will be unpleasant surprises for those who
violate this resolution. The same containment will affect the various
Palestinian and multi-national terrorist factions that are fighting
the Lebanese Army, whose young people are a source of pride.

There might be other assassinations, and the forces seeking the
dismantling of the Lebanese State might try other types of sabotage,
escalation and wars, through using mercenaries, militias and opening
the borders to al-Qaida so that it can enter Lebanon. The forces
seeking the overthrow of the Palestinian Authority and the building of
institutions might believe that the spread of al-Qaida in their ranks
might also protect them from sabotage and terror, at the expense of
Palestinian suffering and lives. The Israeli occupation authorities
might believe themselves able to procrastinate and appear ready for
peace, without offering any down payment to prove their seriousness.
The common denominator among all these forces is that they are digging
their own graves and building a structure that will be brought down
over their heads by their "partner" in these failed policies, whether
it is called "al-Qaida" or something else.