Negroponte, Lebanon and al-Qaeda
US intelligence chief John Negroponte says he is worried about al-Qaeda getting a foothold in Lebanon. Reuters quotes him as saying,
‘ “He [Ayman al-Zawahiri] talked about the priority attached to being successful in Iraq so it could then be used as a platform to extend their activities into the Levant, meaning Jordan, Syria and Lebanon,” Negroponte told Reuters and the International Herald Tribune in an interview on Friday.
“It’s not clear to me whether or not they’ve got a basis for successful activity in Lebanon, since the stronger Muslim sect in Lebanon is Shia. But I wouldn’t rule that out. And there’s been some evidence of al Qaeda activity in Lebanon . . . ” ‘
Radical Salafi Jihadis are rare in Lebanon, where the Sunni population is probably about 20 percent of the 3.8 million population (i.e. 760,000 persons). Ziad Jarrah, one of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, was Lebanese. There have been a handful of religious radicals among the Palestinians in the camps, one of whom appears to have assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri after having fought the Americans in Iraq. Sunnis who attacked the Danish embassy in Beirut over the caricatures of the Prophet may have included some Salafi Jihadis, though that was probably a relatively spontaneous act of an urban crowd.
But for the most part, Sunnis in Lebanon are urban and urbane, have nearly universal literacy, and many are professionals. (Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is an example of that community.) Also, there aren’t actually very many of them, maybe half a million adults, and they are in a political system dominated in different ways by Christians and Shiites.
How would you avoid the radicalization of the Lebanese Sunnis, if that was really a high priority?
Uh, like, don’t let the Israelis bomb the country intensively for over a month, destroying its infrastructure and setting back its economy twenty years. And don’t openly block a ceasefire if you are America.
Just a guess, that kind of thing could make people angry and unemployed and more easily recruited into al-Qaeda.
Getting out of Iraq and halting the assaults on Sunni Arabs there would help. Lebanese Sunnis tend to empathize with Iraqi Sunnis, and operations like Fallujah angered them.
Then, settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on terms that are just to the Palestinians would also be important in halting radicalization.
I don’t see any sign whatsoever that the Bush administration is practically committed to acting in ways that forestall the radicalization of the Levant. This is a political question, and the politics of it are not being done right.