Riddles of the Middle East conflict

Here's a riddle for you:

Which country has been invaded by Israel, even though Israel was not fighting the country it was invading?

Answer: Lebanon, which is on Israel's northern doorstep.

Israel has no quarrel with the government of Lebanon. Its quarrel is with two outside armed forces stationed in Lebanon. Israel feels both are a threat to its existence.

These two forces are:

1. The Syrians, who are also neighbors of Israel. The Syrians want a chunk of their land back known as the Golan Heights. The Israelis grabbed the land in the 1967 Middle East war.

2. The Palestinians, who want to get their homeland back and are using force against Israel to get a state of their own. Many people believe this is the root cause of the problems in the Middle East. What makes the Palestinians so bitter is that much of their homeland, Palestine, was taken away from them in 1948 when half of Palestine became the new state of Israel. The making of this new Jewish state led to war between Israel and the Arabs. Israel won that war, causing a number of Palestinians to flee. People who flee for political reasons or because of war are known as refugees.

Since that time many Palestinian refugees have organized themselves into groups to get their land back. The best-known Palestinian group is the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO. Its leader is Yasser Arafat. Palestinian groups , like the PLO, have used terrorist attacks and armed warfare both against targets in Israel and around the world. So far they have been unsuccessful in freeing or liberating what was Palestine from Israeli control.

The Israelis, in turn, have struck back harder and harder at the Palestinians. This is what has been happening in Lebanon these past few weeks as Israel tries to knock out the Palestinians as a military force. Israel wants to remove the threat of rocket attacks from those Palestinians based in Lebanon to allow Israelis in northern Israel to live in peace.

The next question is: Why don't the Lebanese stop the Israelis and the Palestinians causing trouble so innocent people wouldn't be killed? Thousands of people have been killed and wounded and tens of thousands made homeless in Lebanon as a result of the Israeli invasion, which began June 6.

Answer: Lebanon is not strong enough. Its government is weak. Its Army is weak. Why? Because the Lebanese people are deeply divided over who should run the country. This deep split led to a civil war in 1975 and 1976 from which the country has never recovered.

Essentially, two main groups controlled Lebanon at the time of that civil war. They were the Christians and the Muslims. The Palestinians tended to be allies of the Muslims. The Christians have been warring with the Muslims and the Palestinians ever since.

Unfortunately, the problem is not that simple. Sometimes Christians and Muslims are on the same side. Sometimes the Christians fight among themselves. This happened when a well-known Christian group called the Phalangists battled with the supporters of the National Liberal Party. There are several Christian sects in Lebanon. The best known are the Maronites, who are Catholics.

Each of the Christian, Muslim, and Palestinian groups has its own subgroups. Several have their own private armies which control parts of the capital of Beirut.

At the time of the civil war the moderate Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, wanted to put a stop to the fighting. So the Arab League sent in an army. That army is known as the Arab Deterrent Force. That force now consists entirely of Syrians. The Israelis do not like the Syrians. Not only have the Israelis been in wars with the Syrians, but the Israelis were angry with the Syrians for placing Soviet weapons known as SAMs in Lebanon. SAM stands for surface-to-air-missile. Israel felt these missiles would be used against its planes.

So Israel's goal in this current war was not only to defeat the Palestinians but also to knock out those Syrian missile sites - which it did - and to weaken the Syrians so that they too would not be a threat to Israel.

What Israel would like is to remove the Syrians and the Palestinians so that a Lebanese government free of these outside forces, but friendly to Israel, could sign a peace treaty with Israel.

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