Washington, D.C. – “Events on the ground today demonstrate more than ever the need for continued U.S. engagement in the Middle East. Today’s escalating violence in the Nahr al Bared camp in Tripoli, Lebanon, along with the tenuous situation in Gaza and the ongoing firing of Qassam rockets into Israel, underscores the fragility and volatility of the region,” said Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress and advisor to the Middle East Bulletin, a publication of Middle East Progress.
A second day of gunfights between Lebanese security forces and militants killed and wounded dozens after a raid against the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam sparked violence on Sunday.
“The fighting in northern Lebanon reflects complexity and sharp divisions in Lebanese politics, the continued influence of Syria, and the interlocking nature of Middle East issues for U.S. interests and policy,” said Brian Katulis, also a Senior Fellow at the Center.
“The militant Islamist groups in the Lebanon camps are seizing on the disorder in Iraq and the lack of opportunity and political horizon for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere to foment their radical agenda. And we know Iran continues to be the main supporter of Hezbollah,” he added.
“Militants and extremists are exploiting vacuums. Security vacuums have grown over the past few years – not only in Iraq, but also in Gaza and places like refugee camps in Lebanon,” said Rudman. “The United States needs a comprehensive approach to promote stability and law and order in the Middle East – one that supports building strong institutions like local police and security forces with oversight from democratically elected governments.”
“The United States needs to play a more active role in stabilizing the Middle East. One of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s key recommendations was a comprehensive regional diplomacy aimed at managing and resolving conflicts in the Middle East,” asserts Rudman. “Instead of walking away from tough diplomacy, the United States needs to role up its sleeves and get more engaged in international efforts to resolve conflicts in the Middle East. It should carefully look again at the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations and develop a pragmatic diplomatic strategy for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
“In addition, it should work to develop a more comprehensive effort to help legitimate government security forces and police agencies operate with oversight from representative government bodies,” adds Katulis. “This support is a necessary first step to establish the law and order needed to address the growing threat of global terror networks and eliminate the security vacuums that have grown in the past six years in the Middle East.”
“Fatah al-Islam is a small splinter group with ties to global terror networks – a suspect in last summer’s foiled Germany train bombings was reportedly killed in the fighting, and Fatah al-Islam’s leader had ties to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Fatah al-Islam has used organized criminal activity to fund some of its activities,” he clarified.
“Fatah al-Islam opposes the major Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas – this group has nothing to do with the main Palestinian faction Fatah,” Katulis noted.