Prominent neoconservative thinkers like Bill Kristol and Larry Kudlow envisioned Israel's war with the Hezbollah last year as a golden opportunity to rewrite the strategic balance of power in the Middle East. In their view, Israel and America should deal a decisive and humiliating blow to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon in order to show Syria and Iran and our other enemies in the Middle East who is really in charge.
A year later, things haven't quite worked out that way. Hezbollah is rebuilding and rearming and maintains a powerful presence in the Lebanese political scene. But the war has had additional unintended consequences according to an NBC News report by Richard Engel who examines the recent clashes between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam, a Lebanon-based Al Qaeda franchise:
The Washington-based think tank, The SITE Institute, this week wrote in an analysis:
"Fatah al-Islam did not appear overnight and was the result of a concerted effort by jihadists responding, in part, to the war between Israel and Hizballah last summer, which deeply unnerved jihadists who fear Shi'a and Iranian hegemony in Lebanon.
"Lebanon, in particular, with a weak central government and containing several religious sects competing for power, is ripe for exploitation by the jihadists, as happened in Iraq after the U.S. invasion. Any base or stronghold in Lebanon or Syria would provide the jihadists with an excellent staging ground for attacks against Israel and the surrounding Arab regimes."
It's important to see the Middle East as a complex mosaic of nations, societies and peoples rather than as distinct countries with well-defined borders and homogeneous populations. There is a steady flow of thoughts, ideas, conflicts and ideologies throughout the region.
Taking this into account, we can see how the actions undertaken by ourselves or Israel to achieve certain objectives can trigger wildly unpredictable and unintended consequences. As an example, few could have predicted that Israel's war with Hezbollah would cause an increase in the activity of Al Qaeda franchises in Lebanon.
On the other hand, many have been predicting that Al Qaeda operatives would begin taking the fight from Iraq into neighboring countries:
Investigations of 32 captured Fatah al-Islam fighters reportedly indicate ties to the militant leader of al-Qaida in Iraq: Abu Hamza al-Mujaher, the car bomb expert who replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The prominent daily Lebanese newspaper al-Nahar reported that Fatah al-Islam was plotting a 9/11 style attack in Lebanon, attacking tunnels and hotels in Beirut.
All of which puts the US-backed Siniora government in the middle of an extraordinarily difficult quandary:
Siniora now faces three choices: rely on the Americans to provide more guns and political support, enter a power-sharing deal with Hezbollah and try to unite the country, or attempt to balance relations with the United States and Hezbollah to fight a common enemy: al-Qaida.
I'm not suggesting the correct course of action for the Siniora government to take at this point. What I will suggest is that the US needs to find a way to get out of Iraq thereby cutting off the oxygen that is fueling Al Qaeda militants throughout the region. At the same time, it makes sense for us to pursue some sort of truce with Iran and their Shiite proxy forces like Hezbollah so we can return our focus to eradicating Al Qaeda. Right now, we've just got too many enemies in the Middle East to deal with at one time.
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