A growing number of people in Lebanon are concerned that Hamas could drag Lebanon into another war with Israel. The fears of the Lebanese are well-grounded in reality. On December 10, a Hamas warehouse filled with munitions exploded in the Burj Shemali Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Pictured: The shattered windows and blackened walls of a mosque damaged by the explosion in the Burj Shemali camp. (Photo by Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP via Getty Images)
It appears that the Palestinians are determined to continue their fight against Israel until the last Arab. For decades, the Palestinians have used Israel's neighboring countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon, as launching pads for various types of attacks against Israel.
In the 1960s, '70s and '80s several Palestinian groups, including Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), set up military training bases in Jordan and Lebanon to launch attacks on Israel.
The Jordanians and Lebanese ended up paying a heavy price for hosting these groups and allowing them to use their territory to plan and carry out attacks against Israel.
In 1970, the Jordanians, after severe clashes, expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from the kingdom. The violent confrontations, referred to as Black September, came after the PLO set up military bases and actually created a state within state in the kingdom.
When the PFLP then hijacked three civilian aircraft in September of 1970, and forced them to land in the Jordanian town of Zarqa, where they took foreign nationals as hostages and later blew up the planes in front of the international press, the late King Hussein of Jordan ordered his army to expel the PLO from the kingdom.
They then moved to Beirut, where the PLO leaders and their armed forces also brought disaster to the Lebanese people, especially during the Lebanon Civil War.
In 1982, when the Israeli army invaded southern Lebanon to destroy the PLO's military infrastructure and stop terrorist attacks against Israel, the PLO was also forced out of Lebanon.
"Large areas of the once beautiful and prosperous city [Beirut] have been reduced to rubble by seven years of unrest and civil war sparked by Mr. Arafat's presence," a BBC dispatch reported.
A growing number of people in Lebanon fear that history is about to repeat itself. They are concerned that Hamas could drag Lebanon into another war with Israel -- as the Hezbollah terrorist militia, backed by Iran, has done for the past three decades.
Their fear comes against a backdrop of reports that the Iranian-backed Palestinian Hamas group has set up a new military unit in Lebanon for launching attacks against Israel. According to the reports, the unit launched its first rocket attack on Israel during the Israel-Hamas war in May 2021.
Hamas's secret build-up of forces in Lebanon has grown over the years to have hundreds of operatives working for its "Construction Bureau," responsible for building and developing military capabilities on Israel's northern border, according to a report by the ALMA Research Center, dedicated to researching the security challenges on Israel's northern border.
The "Construction Bureau," the report reveals, operates several departments: the manufacturing department, military intelligence, instruction and training, communications, finance, planning, logistics, security, and foreign relations. The "Construction Bureau" also has two units with hundreds of operatives in Lebanon. The units engage in recruiting operatives, conducting training, and special courses (snipers, anti-tanks, attack drones, etc.). The units also develop and manufacture weapons (rockets, attack drones, miniature submarines), establish operation squads, and prepare operational programs.
On December 10, the fears of the Lebanese proved justified when a Hamas warehouse filled with munitions exploded in the Burj Shemali Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.
The state-run National News Agency reported an unspecified number of deaths. The explosion was reportedly caused by a fire that broke out near a mosque and later spread to an arms depot belonging to Hamas. The explosion, according to some reports, injured dozens of people and killed a senior member of Hamas, Hamza Chahine, responsible for recruitment for the local branch of the group.
Several Lebanese expressed deep concern over the explosion and warned that the presence of armed Palestinian groups in Lebanon would have devastating repercussions on the country. Prominent Lebanese journalist Rafik Khoury wrote:
"Palestinian weapons no longer have a role in Lebanon in the sense that they did in the 1960s of the last century: the practice of armed struggle to liberate Palestine from southern Lebanon. It was a role that led to the devastating Lebanon [civil war] and the bragging of Yasser Arafat that he 'ruled' Lebanon. It also led to the Israeli invasion and the expulsion of the PLO and its leaders to Tunisia and other capitals under American and French supervision."
Khoury pointed out that the Palestinians used to say that "the road to Palestine passes through all Arab capitals and overthrowing their regimes."
It is no secret, he said, that Hamas is working to inherit the role of the PLO in Lebanon as a dominant armed group. "After more than half a century, Hamas is repeating the experience of Fatah [the largest PLO faction] and the mistakes and the disasters in Jordan and Lebanon," Khoury added.
Lebanese international relations expert Khaled El-Ezzi said that Hamas has a powerful presence in Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon, which is under the control of Hezbollah.
El-Ezzi noted that Hamas is "directly affiliated" with Iran and that its leaders have strong relations with Hezbollah.
Senior Hamas officials, he revealed, have offices and residences in the southern suburb of Beirut, known to be a Hezbollah stronghold. According to El-Ezzi:
"The explosion [at the Hamas warehouse] constituted a flagrant violation of Resolution 1701 issued by the United Nations after the 2006 war because the refugee camp is located under the authority of UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], and the storage of weapons in the camp means that there is a Lebanese party that helped Hamas to do so."
The head of the Lebanese Change Movement party, Elie Mahfoud, said that Hamas has gunmen in several refugee camps in Lebanon and they "receive orders from Hezbollah to carry out acts of sabotage outside the camps."
Lebanese writer Khairallah Khairallah said that the explosion at the weapons depot shows that Hamas has taken it upon itself "to distort the image of the Palestinian people."
The explosion, Khairallah pointed out, occurred hours after the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to Cairo, where he discussed with senior Egyptian officials the issue of the reconstruction of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
"Egypt is playing a positive and commendable role of a humanitarian nature in sparing the people of Gaza more suffering, misery, and destruction," Khairallah wrote.
"Wherever Hamas is found, there is devastation. Why does it store weapons and explosives in Lebanon?... It is surprising that Hamas insists on storing weapons and ammunition in southern Lebanon, taking advantage of the absence of the Lebanese state in the Palestinian camps.... But what can one do with a movement belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood that does not care about what happened to the Palestinians in Gaza... Hamas eliminated the Palestinian national project. It practically eliminated the independent Palestinian decision and turned Gaza into an Iranian missile base... Hamas wants to rewrite the history of Palestine and link it to the Iranian interest. It does this through its practices in Lebanon. It even ignores the fact that Lebanon is in a state of a bankruptcy and suffering from the chaos of weapons."
Lebanese newspaper editor Bechara Charbel said that the Palestinians have lost a moral argument by insisting on their own armed presence in the camps and not entrusting their security to the Lebanese army.
According to Bechara, Hamas's military presence in Lebanon does not serve to support Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram's recent decision to allow Palestinians to work in professions that were prohibited to them. The decision relaxes restrictions on Palestinians, enabling them to work in trade union-regulated professions including law, engineering, and medicine. These professions were limited to Lebanese nationals only.
"Those sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinians and their humanitarian situation will not be convinced of the necessity of facilitating their lives in Lebanon," he emphasized.
"It is unfortunate that Hamas is repeating the mistakes of the PLO in using Lebanon as a platform. It is not acceptable for Hamas to be active militarily in Lebanon, training elements and storing ammunition, considering itself above any consideration of the Lebanese state, just because it is an ally of Hezbollah and part of the Iranian axis. The Palestinian organizations did not learn from the bitter lessons they received, whether during their disastrous involvement in the Lebanon wars, or while the refugee camps endured the hardship of the siege imposed on them by the Syrian regime."
The fears of the Lebanese are well-grounded in reality.
Since 2007, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, triggering military confrontations that have wreaked havoc on the lives of Palestinians living there.
The Lebanese are making it clear that they do not want Hamas -- or any other Palestinian group -- to drag them into another war with Israel. They are saying that they are done with decades-long Palestinian efforts to transform Lebanon into a war zone.
With all this clarity on the part of the Lebanese, it remains to be seen whether international bodies will themselves speak out to prevent another catastrophe in Lebanon carried out by a Palestinian terrorist group.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.