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Creating a Field Day For Militias, Large and Small

The Toronto Star

The crises in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon and Afghanistan are the inevitable outcome of treating the symptoms rather than the disease.

Gaza: Israeli bombing won't bring peace any more than previous military crackdowns. American-Israeli help to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces won't stop Hamas from acquiring more rockets to hurl at Israel. The Saudi-sponsored unity government between Fatah and Hamas won't end their internecine warfare.

"The problem is Gaza itself," writes Fawaz Turki, author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile, who lives in Washington.

"Israel may have evacuated its miserable colonists and soldiers from Gaza but it continues to control its airspace, offshore maritime access and its borders, determining the flow of goods, produce and people ...

"The cumulative impact of sustained economic hardship, coupled with living under the thumb of a foreign occupier can be devastating to an individual's psychological, even cognitive and social functioning ...

"Communities made inert by repression, social immobility or economic deprivation, will build up an inescapable drive towards war, towards an assertion of identity at the cost of mutual destruction."

The World Bank, too, recently criticized the Israeli stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank, the latter cut up into "ever smaller and disconnected cantons."

Neither the Palestinian civil war nor the breakdown of the months-long ceasefire with Israel should have come as a surprise.

Lebanon: About 400,000 Palestinian refugees there remain marginalized — denied citizenship and restricted to menial jobs. It is in one of their 12 camps that Beirut is battling Fatah al-Islam, which vows to "fight the Jews and take the holy war to the frontiers of Palestine."

Rushing U.S. military supplies to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora may help him crush this militia, but it won't guarantee that others won't emerge.

Fatah al-Islam may or may not be the creation of Syria. The more relevant point is that it is easy for anyone to start a militia in the midst of misery.

The other point is that Lebanon is politically paralyzed between pro- and anti-Hezbollah elements. Attacking Fatah al-Islam is easy, disarming the Hezbollah is not, so strong it emerged from last year's Israeli invasion.

Iraq and Afghanistan: The U.S. presence in both has been a boon to terrorists.

The U.S. State Department says terrorism shot up 25 per cent last year —14,338 attacks that killed 20,498 people, most in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The leader of Fatah al-Islam was an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the notorious Al Qaeda terrorist who was killed in Iraq last summer. Other jihadis from Iraq may be operating well beyond Lebanon, as indicated by terrorist incidents in Morocco and Algeria. Jihadi tactics from Iraq are being copied in Afghanistan.

Propping up prime ministers Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad and Hamid Karzai in Kabul won't guarantee any more success than propping up Abbas and Siniora.

They have been rendered ineffective by the Israeli and American policies of occupations and endless war, with criminal disregard for civilian casualties and human suffering.

Enter the radicals — and Iran.

Bilateral U.S.-Iran talks, long overdue and at last underway, won't end the carnage in Iraq. Tehran has little incentive to help there while the U.S. — backed by some Sunni Arab dictators — continues its sabre-rattling over the Iranian nuclear program.

"The failure to find political and institutional solutions in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, along with the American rivalry with Iran for regional influence, has stirred up all kinds of conflicts and created a field day for militias, large and small," says Prof. Jim Reilly, a University of Toronto expert on the Middle East.

"They have let loose a host of furies" — none easily contained.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday in World and Sunday in the A-section. 

© 2007 The Toronto Star

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