Edition 28 Volume 5 - July 19, 2024

Nahr al-Bared and the Lebanon power vacuum

Fundamentalism brings no benefits to Syria -   Rime Allaf

The Syrians would be foolish to take comfort in the unfolding events, lest similar attempts spread on home turf.

Sternest challenge since civil war -   Nicholas Blanford

The Lebanese security authorities were slow in comprehending the potential threat posed by Fateh al-Islam.

Lebanon's summer of fear -   Emile El-Hokayem

The best Lebanon can hope for is a consensual president, which would require a foreign-brokered compromise.

Lebanese army is best bet -   Riad Kahwaji

The main motto of the military leadership is that neither of the two Lebanese camps should emerge as winner or loser.

Lebanon is staring down the abyss -   Oussama Safa

If no quick resolution is found to the current political standoff, economic collapse is lurking by the end of the year.

Fundamentalism brings no benefits to Syria
 Rime Allaf

The "blame Syria" game is in full swing again as the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared succumbs slowly and painfully to a battle begun a couple of months ago. Under shelling by an increasingly desperate Lebanese army--that is overwhelmed by the loss of over 100 soldiers as it tries to defeat the obscure militant group of Fateh al-Islam and is taking untold Palestinian civilian casualties in the process--the crumbling camp continues to harbor militants of various nationalities as different theories about their origins and their sponsors are proffered.

Pan-Arab, Saudi and Lebanese media backing the government of Fouad Siniora have been adamant about the Syrian connection, reporting the alleged confessions of captured militants who spilled the beans about their close ties to the highest echelons of the Syrian regime in astonishingly detailed accounts reminiscent of the first Mehlis report. In order to destabilize Lebanon even further, according to sources unbothered with the burden of proof, the Syrians planned and executed the entire succession of events in Tripoli, after having financed and armed Fateh al-Islam. Syria, already implicated in the financial, logistical and political support of a rather wide range of actors in the region, ranging from all the constituents of the so-called "Shi'ite crescent" (including Hizballah) to the strictest Sunni radicals (including Hamas)--all of which denounced Fateh al-Islam--is thus supposedly directly behind every anti-Siniora/Hariri/Saudi/American incident, in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.

In fact, the attempted "Syrianization" of all regional trouble-making elements is experiencing such a surge of its own that known journalists, writing in Saudi media, are now even trying to re-brand international enemy number one, Osama Bin Laden, as not really Saudi since his mother is Syrian.

Even though some would argue that Lebanon was unstable enough for Syria's taste as it is, unverified hypotheses implicating Syria in the Nahr al-Bared standoff are by no means impossible. After all, there is no reason why the Syrian regime can't be as miscalculating and as unwise as the British (initial sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood as a counterforce to undesirable Arabism), the Israelis (crucial backers of the creation of Hamas, which was supposed to counterbalance inconveniently popular secular Palestinian militants) or the Americans (trainers, cheer leaders and chief financiers of the Mujahideen, of future al-Qaeda fame, fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan). Indeed, promoters of religious fundamentalism as a tool against the villain of the day have acted at their own peril, subsequently paying the price for such selfish folly. The various supporters of Siniora are no exception, especially as the pillars on which the Lebanese government leans (notably Saudi Arabia) have been directly involved in such gambles.

Some observers have presented theories conflicting with the anti-Syrian narrative. Whether to gather support during election time or to challenge Shi'ite groups, the Hariri movement--with the blessing of Saudi Arabia and the US--has allegedly courted Sunni Islamists in northern Lebanon and directly financed groups in Tripoli and Akkar. If true, it is not clear why the whole scheme backfired, but financing problems have been mentioned as issues of contention in addition to the unforeseen radicalization of the groups.

Competing speculations notwithstanding, the Lebanese state and the Lebanese army have proven themselves to be impotent in the face of adversity resulting from foreign meddling and assault, or from internal disturbance and insurgence. From a strategic point of view, regardless of its own involvement or lack thereof, this initially favors the Syrian regime as it attempts to re-impose its weight on the Lebanese arena. Seen from Damascus, the freeze in the political process (a freeze to which Syria was a major contributor) and the incapacity of the Lebanese state to defend itself during successive confrontations (first with Israel in 2024, and now with al-Qaeda inspired groups) have reinforced the official Syrian argument for a strong affiliation between the two countries. A weak Lebanese state without Syria's "protection" is counter-productive to Damascus and creates risky challenges.

While any incident weakening the hand of Saad Hariri's movement can only be good news for the Syrians at the moment, there are clear dangers to the trend of fundamentalist groups starting to take matters into their own hands. This is an issue that the Syrian regime should find worrying, especially as religion-based extremist ideologies are spreading on either side of the Syrian borders. Syria has so far been spared such unrest and the often resulting carnage, but there is no guarantee that the borders, even closed, will protect it from a flood of eager fundamentalists for whom the Syrian regime is ultimately an ideological foe. Whether or not they are involved (and a number of credible sources say they are not), the Syrians would be foolish to take comfort in the unfolding events, lest similar attempts spread on home turf. True, the Syrian army and the state's infrastructure are much better prepared to deal with potential turmoil. But reaching such a state of affairs would undoubtedly shake the country, especially after one and a half million Iraqis have taken refuge in Syria, creating tensions that could eventually transcend the economic and social realm and enter the even more dangerous whirlwind of sectarianism and communalism.

The deja vu scenario of lighting extremist fires to score points against opponents creates only losers; this is a maxim that all regimes meddling in Lebanon should remember.- Published 19/7/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at London's Chatham House.

Sternest challenge since civil war
 Nicholas Blanford

The bloody two-month confrontation with Fateh al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp presented the under-equipped and overstretched Lebanese army with its sternest challenge since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

The struggle was protracted, messy and came at the cost of over 100 soldiers killed, yet the Lebanese army's imminent triumph over Fateh al-Islam carries great symbolic weight and has lifted the morale of a force that since 1990 has played second fiddle in martial affairs to Hizballah. At the same time, however, it underlines the cost of the Lebanese government's inability or reluctance to nip in the bud threats to national security, such as Fateh al-Islam, or to deal decisively with existing security problems such as the small pro-Syrian Palestinian bases located mainly in the eastern Bekaa valley.

The Lebanese security authorities were slow in comprehending the potential threat posed by Fateh al-Islam after it established itself in November last year. Foreign jihadist fighters swelled its ranks from December, many of them entering Lebanon through traditional smuggling routes along the northern border with Syria and slipping inside Nahr al-Bared despite the Lebanese army cordon around the camp. Fateh al-Islam was blamed for several bombings, including one in February that killed three people, as well as the assassination last November of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. But the Lebanese authorities only acted forcefully against the group after militants robbed a bank in North Lebanon in May (the third bank robbery attributed to the group since the beginning of the year).

Fateh al-Islam was also linked to pro-Syrian factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fateh al-Intifada. Both factions operate small military bases scattered along Lebanon's mountainous eastern border with Syria. Fateh al-Islam's leader Shaker al-Absi and some of his comrades received training in some of these outposts after entering Lebanon from Syria and prior to deploying in Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. PFLP-GC militants also fought alongside Fateh al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared.

In March 2024, during the opening stages of the ill-fated national dialogue sessions to resolve Lebanon's pressing political issues, the country's top leaders unanimously agreed that the bases, which have existed for over three decades, should be dismantled and the militants disarmed. They set a six-month deadline for its implementation. Initial steps in this direction were taken with the return to Beirut for the first time in two decades of a formal PLO representative and the beginning of a foreign-funded program to improve the poor living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps. But nothing more happened. The reason in large part was last summer's Hizballah-Israel war followed by political crisis and gridlock. Against this more serious concern, the fate of the Palestinian outposts seemed mundane.

In early May--before fighting broke out in Nahr al-Bared--a senior government official reduced the Palestinian bases to a "nuisance". But in the days after the fighting broke out in Nahr al-Bared, Lebanese military intelligence reported that the PFLP-GC and Fateh al-Intifada bases were reinforced from Syria with fresh fighters and weapons, including Katyusha rocket launchers, one of which was aimed at a Lebanese army base in the Bekaa.

When I visited two PFLP-GC bases in early June the reception was less than cordial. The fighters were edgy and heavily-armed, clearly concerned that the Lebanese army may come for them after dealing with Fateh al-Islam. Some analysts believe that it is a mistake to delay dealing with the Palestinian bases, arguing that they are not only breeding grounds for instability--such as conduits for smuggled arms and centers for training militants--but are also glaring examples of the central government's failure to exert its authority over the entire country.

Yet a military campaign to close these bases is fraught with political risk. Militarily, the bases, generally consisting a of a few huts and tunnels located in remote wadis, offer a more favorable battlefield environment for the army compared to the densely-populated and cramped interior of Nahr al-Bared. But the Lebanese army is already dangerously overstretched with security commitments in southern Lebanon, along the Syrian border, in Beirut and at Nahr al-Bared. Its ammunition stocks are so low that it had to be re-supplied with US military airlifts in early June to allow it to continue fighting Fateh al-Islam.

More importantly, perhaps, most of the Palestinian bases are connected to Syria by numerous dirt trails that snake across the mountains un-patrolled by the Lebanese army. A military operation so close to Syrian soil will not be welcomed by Damascus, particularly as the PFLP-GC and Fateh Intifada are Syrian allies. And it is the risk of incurring further animosity from Damascus--and the unwanted potential consequences--that may well persuade the Lebanese government to reason that tackling the Palestinian bases is, for now, one headache too many.- Published 19/7/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Nicholas Blanford is a Beirut-based correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor.

Lebanon's summer of fear
 Emile El-Hokayem

One has to wonder whether to admire the resiliency of Lebanese society or ridicule its ability to adapt so easily to potential doom. Assailed by speculation of another summer conflict, Lebanese displayed a mixture of hope and angst. Youth flocked to Facebook groups such as "Nobody's ruining my f-ing vacation in Lebanon this summer", perpetuating a much-derided if necessary schizophrenia; the private sector called for a 100-day truce; and summer festivals scheduled star musicians. Of course, such a mind-set could not survive the coming storm.

Since May, Lebanon has suffered through major security incidents. Government paralysis, a crisis of legitimacy regarding the country's institutions and power-sharing system and a targeted campaign of violence, all against the backdrop of upcoming milestones, have left Lebanon economically struggling, politically fractured and flirting with state failure again.

The first blow came when Lebanese security forces clashed with Fateh al-Islam. This peculiar organization, whose alleged loyalties and patrons have inspired spurious theories, has operated from Palestinian camps north of Tripoli since late 2024 and is comprised of Arab and Lebanese fighters, some returning from Iraq. Some have depicted FAI as a carefully groomed Sunni instrument that turned rogue; rather, FAI thrived on the factional nature of Sunni Islam, the availability of frustrated foreign militants, the ability to siphon resources and men from other groups (and thus to invite manipulation) and the state's structural incapacity to preempt such threats.

The Nahr al-Bared tragedy is approaching its end, but once again Lebanon's weak institutions failed to deliver basic security. The fight left the camp in ruins, exacerbating tensions between displaced Palestinians and local Lebanese and, despite overwhelming Sunni condemnation of FAI, frustrated and further radicalized segments of the Sunni community. While violence is now territorially contained, FAI's use of rockets against neighboring towns, the threat of sleeper cells and the real risk of Palestinian or Salafi-jihadi uprisings elsewhere are distressing prospects.

After a bruising start and disorderly political direction, the military's performance gradually improved, boosting its image and morale. Almost everywhere there are signs of genuine if inflated pride in the Lebanese Armed Forces, seen by many as the one institution actually fulfilling its mission and not mired in sectarian and political bickering. Whatever good comes out of the LAF's performance, however, will dissipate as the political crisis endures. Underlying this success is the reality of an overstretched force, poor managerial and strategic skills at the top, inadequate equipment and training and perennial concerns about force cohesion. Indeed, the illusion that the LAF is a solution to the country's ills is fading. Unless comprehensive reform occurs, the security sector will remain vulnerable to political interference, misplaced ambitions and manipulation.

The other security front is South Lebanon, an over-militarized and volatile space. The predictable June 25 attack on the Spanish peacekeepers--probably by a jihadi group--and multiple violations of UNSC Resolution 1701 by Israel, Syria and Hizballah illustrate the resolution's limitations. Torn between the requirements of force protection, which would call for intelligence sharing with Hizballah and security guarantees from Syria, and the need to fulfill their mission by containing both, nervous UNIFIL officials are adamant that attacks will not divert them from the latter. For its part, Hizballah seems genuinely disturbed by this attack at a time when it is still determined to win the political struggle in Beirut, not turn up the heat in the South.

The UN Security Council's adoption of the Hariri tribunal was a watershed event but not a turning point--probably because some parties from all sides see the tribunal as an instrument of regime change instead of deterrence and leverage with Syria. Having secured the tribunal, the ruling coalition extended too timid a hand to the opposition, which in turn refused to soften its demand for a veto right within a national unity government. Nor did the tribunal prevent the assassination of parliamentarian Walid Eido, likely the doing of Damascus' Lebanese henchmen.

A frustrated victor, Hizballah has failed to cash in politically on its victory against Israel and to deliver on its reconstruction promises. Having jeopardized its cross-sectarian appeal, it has taken a backseat as its allies lead the confrontation with the government. But these partners, strongly identified with Syrian rule (except Michel Aoun), undermine the opposition's very claim to embody change and good governance. Nevertheless, the Hizballah-Aoun alliance of convenience and shared opposition to the Taef system continue to shape political dynamics, and the Party of God even scored an unprecedented diplomatic nod when invited to the French-sponsored meeting of Saint-Cloud.

The governing coalition has survived the opposition's tremendous challenge so far. Yet, physically threatened and internally divided, it has failed to demonstrate either competence or creativity. By trying to internationalize every problem, it has given credence to the perception of a western and Arab trusteeship over Lebanon. Moreover, the tactics of de-legitimizing Hizballah as essentially un-Lebanese and refusing to rethink the governance structure have shown their limits. This is why anti-Syrian rhetoric is escalating again, not without justification, but at considerable risk.

Indeed, Syria's direct contribution to Lebanon's instability remains considerable, if murky and sometimes overstated. In Syrian eyes, instability validates the positive role Syria played until 2024, squarely putting the blame for recent tensions on Lebanon's sectarian divisions and on the international community's shortsightedness. It also contributes to international fatigue with the Lebanese mess--opening the door for Syria to return as a pivotal player with veto power over Lebanese politics and the capacity to deliver its Lebanese allies if properly courted and rewarded, as French diplomacy is presently doing.

Under such circumstances, there is no opening for serious debate about political reform, only for conflict mitigation. The best Lebanon can hope for is a consensual president, which would require a foreign-brokered compromise. So far, however, external initiatives to promote reconciliation have stalled. The various factions are busy strategizing for the September presidential elections in the hope that some improbable regional development will tip the balance their way, and gearing for potentially two parallel and equally illegitimate governments. At the street level, bombastic statements and meager achievements on all sides have sucked up whatever romance people still attached to either Hizballah's muqawama or the majority's Cedar Revolution, strengthening sectarian sentiments at the expense of both myths.- Published 19/7/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Emile El-Hokayem is a research fellow at The Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, DC.

Lebanese army is best bet
 Riad Kahwaji

Once again, Palestinians have been used as pawns in the regional showdown between pro-western parties and forces allied with the so-called Syrian-Iranian axis. But this time, Palestinians have also been used by al-Qaeda-inspired Islamists to establish a stronghold in Lebanon, particularly in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in the predominantly Muslim Sunni north. The name selected for this radical armed group, Fateh al-Islam, reflects the cunning of those who set it up to conceal it as a Palestinian resistance faction but with an Islamic agenda, like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The group's association with Syria comes from the fact that many of its members, including its leaders, came via Syria's border with Lebanon and it used the offices, weapons and facilities in the camp of the Damascus-based Fateh al-Intifada to establish itself.

The threat posed to Lebanon by Fateh al-Islam was at the strategic level. Documents confiscated from the group's offices and confessions by its members have revealed an evil grand design to plunge Lebanon into an Iraq-like sectarian war and undermine its existence as a multi-confessional democratic state. These facts were a surprise to many Lebanese officials and leaders who had regarded Fateh al-Islam as just one of many armed Palestinian factions in Lebanon's refugee camps that are often used as proxies by regional players to send security messages to the Lebanese government or other local, regional or international players.

The big surprise in this showdown in Nahr al-Bared was the Lebanese Armed Forces and its command. The strong resolve to fully eliminate Fateh al-Islam at all costs has reasserted the military establishment as the best bet for Lebanon's unity and salvation. The significance of the Nahr al-Bared offensive is that it showed that the LAF is a crucial and efficient force in combating terrorists. It also showed that the Lebanese Muslim Sunni community is largely immune to the radical al-Qaeda-like movements. The open and democratic life-style in Lebanon did not help Fateh al-Islam members establish strong roots quickly in northern Lebanon. Most of the movement's cells outside the camp were exposed by regular Lebanese civilians and most of the LAF soldiers killed and wounded in the clashes were Sunni troops who largely volunteered to fight the zealots.

However, the incident at Nahr al-Bared proved how vulnerable people are in Palestinian refugee camps to Qaeda-like movements. If nothing is done to dramatically improve living conditions there and ban armed factions, other movements like Fateh al-Islam will likely appear in other camps in Lebanon. The large number of Palestinian fighters killed or captured in the fighting with the LAF shows that the Islamic group did establish roots for itself inside the camp.

Other Islamic groups in Palestinian refugee camps have been placed under scrutiny by the Lebanese authorities, especially after the attacks on the United Nations peacekeepers in South Lebanon. These Islamic factions must have observed and learned from the Fateh al-Islam experience how to better conceal themselves and avoid meeting a similar fate. So long as the problem of illegal weapons in Palestinian refugee camps remains unresolved, the Islamic militants' threat remains high.

The Nahr al-Bared clashes did not just prove that LAF commanders were capable military officers but also showed them to be shrewd politicians. They managed to get Lebanese, Palestinian, Arab and international political backing for their decision to break a long-standing taboo: forcibly entering a Palestinian refugee camp to establish security. This was not the first tough test the LAF has passed successfully: it has managed to survive many challenges the country faced internally and externally ever since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2024. With the current split within Lebanese political ranks, especially the resignation of Shi'ite members of the cabinet and the cessation of sessions of parliament, the LAF stands as the strongest unified state institution holding Lebanon together.

Lebanon will likely face more difficult security as well as political challenges in the weeks to come. Extensive efforts have not yet succeeded in closing the gap between the western and Arab-backed pro-government forces on the one hand and the opposition forces allied with the Syrian-Iranian axis on the other. Hence, further political escalation is anticipated as we approach the presidential elections that must be held before November 20. Failure to elect a new president would create a real power vacuum that might push the Lebanese sides to take drastic measures. This could split Lebanon apart and subsequently expose it as a new arena for al-Qaeda and other radical forces to undermine regional and international security.

The ongoing Cold War-style conflict between the US and its allies on the one hand and the Iranian-Syrian axis on the other could further undermine regional stability and Lebanon's unity and subject the LAF to additional, tougher tests. Every challenge the LAF overcomes makes it stronger. However, one major setback for the LAF could undo all that has been done and break up the country. Hence the military establishment has maintained its links with all Lebanese parties and immunized itself to internal divisions. According to a senior LAF officer, the main motto of the military leadership is that neither of the two Lebanese political camps should emerge as winner or loser. Only solidarity ensures Lebanon's unity and survival.- Published 19/7/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Riad Kahwaji is CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis - INEGMA, in Dubai.

Lebanon is staring down the abyss
 Oussama Safa

In the past 60 days, Lebanon has witnessed unprecedented levels of violence that threaten to mortally weaken what is left of the country's institutions and governance apparatus. The war of attrition that the Lebanese army is waging against Fateh al-Islam in the northern camp of Nahr al-Bared is part and parcel of a carefully orchestrated campaign to destabilize the country's security. The severe military clashes in the North, which began as the UN Security Council prepared to ratify under Chapter VII a special international tribunal to prosecute political assassinations in Lebanon since 2024, were quickly followed by the violent killing of pro-government MP Walid Eido. More recently came attacks against UNIFIL troops stationed in South Lebanon to ensure the implementation of UNSCR 1701--another of Lebanon's recently won tools to restore and maintain sovereignty.

These violent messages are a stark reminder that attempts to secure Lebanese independence and sovereignty two years after the withdrawal of Syrian troops are being stubbornly opposed. Some observers attribute, without evidence, the instigation of violence to the neighboring Syrian regime. Undeniably, no Syrian tears are being shed over what has befallen Syria's neighbor. The meticulous weakening of Lebanese institutions and the state's impaired governance capacity serve Syria's interest of delaying the actual establishment of the special tribunal and strengthen the hand of the opposition. Additionally, the damning UN evidence of Syrian support for cross-border arms smuggling has confirmed many a suspicion about a deliberate Syrian role in Lebanon's recent woes.

Eight months into the sit-ins and the ministerial walkout staged by the opposition in December in Beirut, a frail and skeletal government remains in power with little effectiveness and a crippled capacity to govern. While the Lebanese opposition's move to topple the government did not achieve its declared goal, it has managed to paralyze practically all vital functions of the incumbent government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The latter and his ministers remain ensconced in the sprawling government compound, trying to govern mostly through long distance ministerial decrees and unwilling to venture outside and risk their lives.

The creeping power vacuum is painfully felt in Beirut. It has been compounded by the fact that the opposition speaker of Parliament has prevented the convening of the chamber of deputies for more than nine months, bringing legislative life to a grinding halt. The Eido assassination in June not only further weakened the already dwindling majority of pro-government MPs, but confirmed once again the threat facing the current government coalition and its sympathizers. The assassination has caused the temporary migration of pro-government MPs away from potential assassination to the safe havens of European cities. Gradually, the ability of the government to effectively manage the multiplicity of headaches that began with the reconstruction process after last summer's war and continued with the ongoing attrition in Nahr al-Bared and the deteriorating security situation in the South, has been seriously curtailed.

In addition to the unstable security situation, Lebanon is facing a severe economic pinch that will soon bring the government to its knees. This has resulted from the lack of a tourist season for the second year in a row, the financing of an expensive reconstruction process, a spiraling debt and an ongoing war in the North. The pledges of support made at the Paris III donor conference last January have not materialized and the private sector--the economy's spinal chord--that was hoping to rev up the tourist season finds itself in dire straits. If no quick resolution is found to the current political standoff, economic collapse is lurking by the end of the year.

While the country should have been busy preparing for the presidential elections scheduled for the last week in September, the current political logjam between the opposition and the government is fast approaching the point of no return. Should September pass with no elected president, the country will face its worst constitutional paralysis since the days of the civil war in 1988 that ended with the Taif Accord a year later.

At stake here is the election of a president that both the opposition and the ruling majority can live with. If this doesn't happen, the opposition might opt for one of two unconstitutional moves: keep the incumbent Emile Lahoud in place on the pretext that the majority prevented the election of a new president; or establish a transitional government to call for early legislative elections. The government majority, on the other hand, is contemplating the constitutionally questionable election of a new president with the simple parliamentary majority that it still retains instead of the required two-thirds quorum. Should any of these scenarios prevail the country will head toward complete polarization and effective partition.

The prevalent power vacuum has upset plans to rearm and train Lebanese troops and upgrade their military hardware. While the army has proven itself the only institution still functioning effectively in Lebanon and worthy of people's trust, some worry that in the current polarized political environment a very strong armed force would risk an unwarranted coup d'etat. This approach has deprived the army of much-needed fire power and tactical attack equipment in its fateful war in Nahr al-Bared.

Another problem facing the armed forces, a reflection of Lebanon's complex sectarian web of political machinations, is that the commander-in-chief of the army is a Maronite, which automatically means a presidential hopeful. Some worry that if he emerges victorious in Nahr al-Bared on the eve of presidential elections, he might be propelled into the presidency. This thinking has caused major political poles of power in Beirut to give cold support at best to the army's war in the North, hence depriving it of much-needed political cover as it wages a fateful battle against Fateh al-Islam.

With Nahr al-Bared and the increased attacks against UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon, the country is now facing a problem of terrorism tantamount to al-Qaeda's threat in Iraq. The Lebanese government in its current capacity is unable to deal with this problem alone; nor can the Lebanese Army do so, absent the full support of the various political actors including the opposition. Unless the government coalition is broadened to include the opposition and a new shared governance consensus is quickly found, it might soon be too late to restore any semblance of state sovereignty and institutions for some time to come.- Published 19/7/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Oussama Safa is general director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies in Beirut.

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