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We created many of our Middle East enemies

One of the scariest parts of the very scary world we live in today is the responsibility that we and our allies bear for the creation of the enemies confronting us.

This is most dreadfully true in Iraq, where thousands of Americans have died and more than $1 trillion has been wasted on a war that had no just cause, where the vacuum created by the 2003 invasion was filled by Islamic jihadists and a government and armed forces more loyal to Iran than to the United States.

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In Afghanistan, the al Qaida forces against whom we went to war, in retaliation for the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center masterminded by Osama bin Laden, actually were originally armed and trained by the United States as our surrogates in the fight against the brutal occupation of that land by what was then the Soviet Union. We should have left the Russians there as it would eventually have been their undoing.

Some day — the sooner the better — we will leave Afghanistan entirely. The Taliban that held sway, with al Qaida as their guests, before we invaded probably will return, driving out the corrupt government we've created and supported there, at a cost of thousands of American and allied casualties and another $1 trillion-plus.

Around this time of year 35 years ago I witnessed the events that led to emergence of another enemy force attributable to the folly of our chief ally in the Middle East. This was the rise of the Iranian-backed, militant Shi'ite force known as Hezbollah.

On June 3, 1982, Palestinian terrorists attempted to assassinate Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to Great Britain, outside a London hotel, leaving Argov in a coma from which he never fully recovered. (He would die from the woulds he received 21 years later). Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed this was an opportune moment for the Israeli army to invade Lebanon where the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat held sway in Beirut and throughout South Lebanon, from which it launched attacks against Israel.

The Lebanese population in the south was predominantly Shi'ite, poor and underserved by the Beirut government, which was dominated by Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims and traumatized by the devastation of their territory by the PLO and retaliatory air raids and occasional incursions by Israeli armed forces.

When the Israeli army invaded in full force on June 6, 1982, three days after the Argov assassination attempt, the Shi'ite population of South Lebanon greeted the Israelis with joyful cheers and scattered flowers as the Palestinian fighters were driven further and further out of the south.

The Lebanese Shi'ite leadership and its moderate political party, called Amal, spoke glowingly and enthusiastically of the future they anticipated without the PLO in their midst and the end of Israeli retaliatory raids. This seemed even more likely once the PLO fighters were driven from Lebanon altogether, evacuated by ship to exile in Tunisia.

In the process, the Israeli army — Sharon's army, as his detractors came to call it — went further than they had originally announced, occupying Beirut itself with disastrous consequences that would lead to the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians by Christian militiamen in two refugee camps under Israeli watch.

After the murderous rampage, U.S. Marines, originally in place to help guarantee the safety of the Palestinian civilian population, returned to Beirut where they too paid a heavy price with the death of 241 when a suicide bomber drove his truck into their base.

Israeli forces withdrew to South Lebanon but not from Lebanon altogether. In less than a year, the moderate Shi'ite leaders who had been so delighted to be rid of the PLO were grumbling that the Israelis had to leave. The Israeli presence in the south and the actions taken to safeguard their troops were having a devastating effect on the daily lives and commerce in South Lebanon. The Amal leaders warned that these conditions would encourage support for the radical Shi'ites, and they were right.

In December 1984, Yitzhak Rabin, who had replaced Sharon as Israeli defense minister, summoned reporters to his headquarters in Tel Aviv to say "Today what we face in Lebanon is more a Shi'ite-Israeli war than a PLO-Israeli war, and I would like to avoid it."

He failed in that respect, disastrously. Israeli forces remained in South Lebanon for another 16 years. Hezbollah grew stronger and stronger, eventually driving out the Israelis and continuing afterward to attack Israel from South Lebanon, just as the PLO had but with greater success. And in 2006, Israel launched what became known as the Hezbollah War following a Hezbollah attack on Israeli soldiers along the border with Israel. More than 1,000 Lebanese perished in the month-long conflict; so did 165 Israelis, a third of whom were civilians.

Today, Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon. It is fighting in Syria on the side of the Iranian- and Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad, and it is stockpiling weapons in anticipation of another conflict with Israel, which may start at any time that either side views as the opportune moment.

Several weeks ago, Israeli warplanes raided a depot outside Damascus where Israel claimed weaponry from Iran was being stockpiled for transfer to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But the flow of weapons for Hezbollah to use against Israel will not be staunched, and sooner or later one side or the other will seize a moment as opportune for attack and that part of the world that already so dangerous will get even more dangerous, bringing in a lot more combatants than Hezbollah and Israel.

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G. Jefferson Price III (gjpthree@gmail.com) is a former Sun foreign correspondent and editor. His quarterly guest column will run every other Sunday through May.

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