The ongoing fight between Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Islam militants is another signpost on the road to a brave new future in which traditional states will succumb to criminals, terrorists and guerilla groups, according to some observers. On the contrary, I believe the Lebanese army’s assault on militia-infested Palestinian refugee camps signals Beirut’s growing strength and confidence … and a brighter future for the troubled country.
A couple days ago, The New York Times reported that the Fatah extremists have used night vision goggles during the battle. ”The Lebanese army does not have such advanced gear,” the paper claimed. This was enough to cause alarm over at Danger Room, where Noah Shachtman drew parallels to author John Robb’s “global guerilla” theory. In an interview at the site just days prior, Robb explained “how loose groups can hollow out a state with these attacks. Under this type of assault, states can lose control and an entire commercially motivated set of groups can emerge that want to perpetuate the chaos.” According to Robb, the spread of tech-savvy, likeminded guerillas represents a long-term threat to the very existence of the nation-state.
But I would argue that Beirut’s assault on the camps — which for decades have been de facto autonomous regions governed by Palestinian extremists — is a sign of Lebanon resurgence as a state. Just a year ago Lebanon was three conflicting entities within one border: the secular north-central part of the country around Beirut; the Hezbollah-governed Shi’ite south and the Sunni camps. In the wake of the Summer War with Israel, with a beefed-up U.N. force aiding them, the Lebanese army moved south to re-assert control over Hezbollah territory, with good results, according to Ya Libnan:
Southern Lebanon used to be a playground for freelance arms dealers. Hezbollah had plenty of Iranian cash, and no one, not the Lebanese police, army or coast guard, was keeping anyone out. Hezbollah controlled access, and if you had weapons to sell, you were welcome. No more. Despite threats of retaliation from Hezbollah, the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers have been seizing weapons, at least large quantities found in the backs of trucks.
So Beirut has cleaned up the south. And now the government is moving against the camps, hopefully with a similar medium-term outcome.
Make no mistake: this is good news. And as for the Times’ claim that the Lebanese army lacks the militants’ sophisticated equipment … which represents greater sophistication? A couple night-vision scopes, or a tank battalion? More on that in a separate post.