The 21st Century Phenomenon


The Palestinian General Security Forces have been operating since 1994. They suffer from some of the symptoms displayed in its day by the South Lebanese Army, which was sponsored by Israel and operated in the years 1985-2000.

At a superficial glance, both military forces were trained and equipped by foreign powers in order to confront other factions of their own society rather then an external enemy. Whatever genuine local cause there was, it was severely undermined by being cast as a foreign cause waged on behalf of foreign powers. SLA and PGSF have thus shared a serious problem of legitimacy in their societies, and the question who they really have served remains open. This contrasts with Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, which ultimately are intended to confront an external enemy, Israel, thereby giving legitimacy to those organizations in their own societies.

In both cases, the recruitment to all these forces has followed local tradition and historical tribal relations by leaving options open and never putting all eggs in one basket. It was very common among Shi’ite families of South Lebanon to send a few sons to serve with the SLA and a few others to join Hizbullah, to pass information from side to side as a precaution and to switch sides when it seemed worthwhile. This is equally the case in many Palestinian families, where some serve with Fateh and others are Hamas operatives.

In this situation, both PGSF and SLA have found all possible excuses not to engage in a serious fight wherever there was a chance they might confront their relatives on the other side. The tendency to blame the foreign power for not providing enough training, ammunition and equipment is a perfect excuse for doing very little.

Although the SLA, like the PGSF, had its own chain of command, neither has ever really been fully responsible for its decisions. A large apparatus of mainly IsraelI liaison officers has, so to speak, supervised and coordinated every move and, in fact, indirectly commanded both the SLA and PGSF, thereby augmenting the impression that they are extensions of the IsraelI army rather than genuine Lebanese or Palestinian forces.

But alongside the similarities there is also a big difference between the two military forces. The SLA never had a political branch with far-reaching political direction and aspirations, like the PGSF. General Antoine Lahd, the SLA commander, was the only semi- political figure in South Lebanon. His roots were in northern Lebanon and he was well connected to the political intrigues of Beirut, but he never showed any political interest in South Lebanon. The SLA never claimed to be a legal force in Lebanon; its legitimacy derived from the fact that there were other illegal forces and militias in Lebanon. The basic feeling within the SLA was that its existence was something temporary. Its wish was to join the Lebanese army as a territorial brigade, just as some other militias in Lebanon did after the Taif agreement of 1989.

In contrast, the PGSF is a legal force legitimized by the Palestinian and international communities under a political umbrella. It is not a temporary force and is there to stay as a coherent institution in Palestinian society. Despite the fact that the PGSF is trained and equipped to confront Hamas within Palestinian society, its primary long term mission is to restore law and order in all of Palestinian society and even to prepare for the prospect of confrontation with an external enemy: Israel.

To summarize, there are similarities between the South Lebanese Army and the Palestinian General Security Forces in their operational conduct, their performance and the patronage and supervision of a foreign power. But the PGSF, despite its considerable failings, operates within the long-term political context of Palestinian society and has a long- term role in protecting Palestinian institutions and society, whether under Hamas or Fateh, whereas the SLA had no long-term role in Lebanese society and never operated within a Lebanese political context.


Published 12/11/2007 ©


 * Related topics ; 


Read more ;  



Please Share...