Blowback in Northern Lebanon?

Could the Lebanese government be learning a severe lesson – that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend?

Fighting between Lebanese troops and Islamic fighters left 40 dead in northern Lebanon, while an explosion in Beirut late Sunday left at least one woman dead and 10 wounded.

Fierce gun battles raged in Lebanon between soldiers and the Fatah al-Islam group, which has been accused of links to Al-Qaeda, in the bloodiest such clashes in seven years.

and….

Lebanese authorities have accused Fatah al-Islam, a splinter group said to be ideologically close to Osama bin Laden’s network, of working for the Syrian intelligence services, which Damascus has denied.?

Now why does this look so suspicious? Back in March, Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker revealed plans by the US and Lebanese government to arm and support extremist Sunni groups (with links to Al Qaeda) in the hope of thwarting Hezbollah.

During a conversation with me, the former Saudi diplomat accused Nasrallah of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.

In 2005, according to a report by the U.S.-based International Crisis Group, Saad Hariri, the Sunni majority leader of the Lebanese parliament and the son of the slain former Prime Minister—Saad inherited more than four billion dollars after his father’s assassination—paid forty-eight thousand dollars in bail for four members of an Islamic militant group from Dinniyeh. The men had been arrested while trying to establish an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon.

The Crisis Group noted that many of the militants “had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.”

So in order to counter a Lebanese Shiite nationalist group, the governments of the US and Lebanon have backed jihadist groups with links to Al Qaeda. It has yet to be revealed whether the relationship turned sour or if this is simply a case of the Jihadist groups having turned around and bitten the hand that feeds them.

Either way, it begs the question. What is it going to take for the US to learn that Al Qaeda does not want to be their friends?

UPDATE 1:

I forgot to mention that the first link I included reports that the Lebanese government is blaming Syria for backing these Sunni extremists and US cable channels are jumping on the badwagon.

The 24/7 news networks were hard at work today trying to make Syria responsible for the Sunni zealots in the camps. The statement was being made today that these groups were connected to AQ. No evidence was offered, but the assertion was repeatedly made based on the “possibility” that had supposedly been voiced by some nameless person in the Lebanese government. Various Lebanese were asked that question – “Is this Al-Qa’ida?” Nobody could be found who was willing to say that there was an organizational link to Al-Qa’ida, but the question was asked over and over again. This question was paired with another – “Is Syria controlling and “behind” this group?” Nobody could be found who would say that either, but the question was asked over and over again.

Syria is not and has not been an ally or supporter of Al Qaeda. The former head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was not buddies with Syrian President Assad. Yet CNN, Fox and MSNBC are helping spread the propaganda that Syria is in league with al Qaeda, who in turn is stirring the pot in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees are caught in a meat grinder. And you wonder how we were “misled” into a war in Iraq?

Sic Semper Tyrannis has written an excellent piece outlining the anomalies of this conflict as well as some very useful background analysis. As always, one need only ask, Qui Bono?

Now, think about it, folks Al-Qa’ida is a virulently anti-Shia Sunni group. Everyone “knows” how much Syria supports Hizbullah, a virulently anti-Sunni Shia group. So, which is it? Which side does the Syrian government support? Does the Syrian government support both at the same time? If you believe that, then you really are a sucker for propaganda.

UPDATE 2:

It seems my hunch was justified.

In an interview on CNN International’s Your World Today, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh explains that the current violence in Lebanon is the result of an attempt by the Lebanese government to crack down on a militant Sunni group, Fatah al-Islam, that it formerly supported.

Talk about unintended consequences!!