The Middle East: Volatile as ever

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor  |  May 30, 2006 at 7:35 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- Two incidents over the Memorial Day weekend, though not directly related, remind us just how volatile a region the Middle East remains as long as the core of the area's dispute -- the Arab-Israeli conflict -- remains unresolved and so long as American troops continue to occupy foreign lands.

The first incident took place between Israel and radical Palestinian groups on the one hand and the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, on the other; the second involved U.S. forces and Afghan civilians. Both incidents caused deaths, which will in turn raise the levels of anger, hatred or animosity -- call it what you wish.

Both incidents are proof that it really does not take much for the anger, hatred, animosity that lingers in the hearts and minds of people whom the U.S. liberated from tyranny, either religious of political, to rise to the surface and explode. The same anger, hatred, animosity, remains at the forefront of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

The second incident took place in Kabul, the Afghan capital, after a banal morning rush-hour traffic accident between a U.S. military truck and Afghan civilians, which was followed by wild rumors that American troops had killed a large number of civilians.

The result sent throngs of angry young men on a rampage that lasted about seven hours, during which time some 20 people lost their lives. The mob fired on hotels where Westerners live; they attacked and ransacked multiple police stations. They assaulted an international aid agency and clashed with Afghan police units.

Officials in Kabul say it is the worst violence the capital has witnessed since 2001, when American forces invaded the country and overthrew the theocratic regime of the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies.

U.S. forces have been heavily criticized in Afghanistan since an air strike by the U.S. Air Force about a week ago on a village in Kandahar province caused the death of 15 civilians. Despite attempts by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to downplay the incident, violence persisted and tensions remained high.

What these incidents tell us in fact is that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition has long overstayed its welcome. Look for more, similar, incidents in the near future.

What this also tells us is that anti-American 'agents provocateurs' -- or sleeper agents -- have successfully re-infiltrated the main Afghan cities. They will bide their time until the appropriate moment presents itself, and they will strike again. It was a tactic effectively employed by the Vietcong in the conflict in Southeast Asia some 30 to 40 years ago.

More importantly, what this tells us is that the United States should give serious consideration to speeding up its plans for withdrawal from countries it has occupied.

The idea is not to abandon Iraq or Afghanistan, which would throw those countries right into the grips of terrorist organizations, but rather to develop a feasible policy that would enable those countries to get their affairs in order. Speed up the deployment of the national forces, allowing them to assume control of their own destiny. No people take kindly to the presence of foreign forces on their soil. The only leader to have understood that concept is Sultan Qaboos of Oman.

When the Sultanate was confronted with a rebellion in its southern Dhofar province, at the time supported by what was then communist South Yemen, or more correctly, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, (itself supported by the Soviet Union), Qaboos dispatched his army to quell the uprising. The Omanis, in turn, were backed by the British, the shah of Iran, and other pro-Western forces. No sooner had a village or region been taken from rebel hands than Qaboos ordered the foreign forces -- including the Omani army -- out of the area. He replaced them with "firqats," autochthonous forces made up of local tribesmen and converted rebels. This helped appease the local population and prevented animosity towards the army and the central government in Muscat from taking root.

There is undoubtedly a good lesson to be learned from the Omani experiment.

The first incident involved members of Islamic Jihad, the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Hezbollah and saw the Israeli military firing at positions held by the PFLP-GC in the Damour area, just south of Beirut along the Mediterranean coast. What this tells us is that neither Hezbollah, nor the PFLP-GC, nor Hamas would act alone without at least the tacit support, or say, the green light from Damascus.

What that tells us is just how volatile the region remains without a solution involving all parties. But we've already been over that today. It might, however, well be worth revisiting Sultan Qaboos' policy on dealing with insurgency.

It is the only one to have produced positive results.


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