Two recent events illustrate the threat that failed states pose to the stability of the Middle East and the broader global community.
On June 25, Palestinian gunmen emerged from the Gaza Strip through a tunnel into Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third. The Israeli military then launched the ongoing operation in the Gaza Strip.
On July 12, Hizbullah guerrillas crossed into Israel from Lebanon, killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting three others. Israel, in retaliation, has undertaken a massive military operation in Lebanon.
These two attacks are closely related and form part of a larger problem facing the Middle East – that of failed states.
Since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, and despite repeated calls (including UN Security Council Resolution 1559) for Lebanon to assert its sovereignty over the southern part of the country, the Beirut government has failed to act decisively, and Hizbullah has been able to operate freely in the south, functioning as the de facto sovereign along the Israeli border. Syria, along with Iran, acts as Hizbullah's patron and still plays a significant covert role within Lebanon despite its formal "withdrawal" from that country in March 2005. Lebanon is thus a failed state that is incapable of exerting sovereignty over its entire territory.
Similarly, the Palestinian territories, and in particular, the Gaza Strip, which Israel evacuated this past summer, are areas of lawlessness with criminal gangs and terrorist organizations operating freely and the government of the Palestinian Authority making no real attempt to establish law and order.
Moreover, Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations have reportedly taken advantage of the relative anarchy to infiltrate both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and can thus be expected to add an even more combustible component to the already volatile mix of competing groups in both those areas.
Failed states are a growing international problem because they are frequently exploited by international terrorists in order to establish training facilities, recruitment centers, operational headquarters, centers for stockpiling contraband, and developing weapons technology.
The continued existence of two failed states in the heart of the Middle East – Lebanon and the nascent Palestinian state in Gaza, along with the present state of affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan, which can only be viewed as additional failed states, is likely to bring about further destabilization and act to undermine moderate Arab regimes, as well as Israel. It is also likely to have a highly negative effect on the already strained global oil market and on critical American interests.
Failed states in general, and particularly those in the Middle East, represent potential threats to the US because they could be transformed into terrorist bases. Those failed states that have already become terrorist bases, have clearly moved from potential threats to emerging ones, and thus the administration's fundamental national security strategy requires that it act forcefully in order to head off such threats.
President Bush's National Security Strategy, unveiled in September 2002, makes it clear that the United States reserves the right to act preemptively against "emerging threats." Preemption, however, does not automatically require the use of force, but can instead include a package of diplomatic and economic measures designed to cut off emerging threats.
Washington should, accordingly, not take a passive "wait and see" approach to the increasing violence being exported from both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, and the increasing lawlessness in those areas, but should rather act forcefully in order to make it clear that it will not allow Gaza and Lebanon to remain failed states.
This requires that the US and the international community: a) actively pressure Syria to end its involvement in Lebanon and its continued undermining of Lebanese sovereignty (despite its ostensible "withdrawal" from Lebanon last year); b) actively pressure the Lebanese government to deploy its Army in the south and to disarm Hizbullah (if necessary with the assistance of a multinational force); and c) move toward the establishment of some type of international trusteeship over the Gaza Strip, which will involve the deployment of multinational forces, possibly including Egyptian forces, to disarm militants in Gaza and stabilize the political, economic, and security situation there.
Israeli actions alone will not bring stability to these failed states and are likely to only temporarily weaken Hamas and other Palestinian factions, as well as the Lebanese Hizbullah. This is a problem of global dimensions, and only the world's sole superpower can take the lead in addressing it.
• Nadav Morag is chair of the department of political science at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He previously served as a senior director at the Israeli National Security Council in the Office of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.