Thursday, July 13, 2006

# Posted 2:52 PM by Patrick Porter  

LEBANON, ISRAEL AND HEZBOLLAH: I'm still trying to get across the details of the latest chapter in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah have kidnapped some Israeli soldiers, and Israel has retaliated by attacking roads, bridges, power stations and military hospitals in southern Lebanon.

My first impression is that Israel, in attacking the state of Lebanon as well as the militant group(s) responsible, has identified the state of Lebanon as an accomplice and defined it as an inextricable part of Hezbollah terror.

Two issues arise that I'd be interested in hearing readers' views about:

a) how far can we say that the state of Lebanon is, in fact, implicated in the resumption of Hezbollah terror;
b) is it strategically sound to conflate/identify the two, instead of trying to separate and distinguish militants and the political wing of Hezbollah?

My fear is that this move of Israel's will contribute to undermining the possibility of isolating extremist Islamists politically, increasing their power and mainstream prestige in the Middle East.

(It should go without saying, but I hope that justice is dealt to those who did kidnap these soldiers at a time when Israel has been debating making serious territorial concessions. I simply am anxious about who Israel precisely should be attacking).

(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

1) Hezbollah is technically one of the parties of government. The government of Lebanon has, so far, been unable to pass a law requiring that Hezbollah disarm (whereas the other militias have), despite many of the factions wishing to do so. (Even opposition politicians, like Michael Aoun, have been willing on occasion to back Hezbollah in order to garner their support on other issues.)
However, at the same time, most of the parties of Lebanon would certainly like Hezbollah to put down their weapons, and certainly don't want them to kidnap civilians. It's a case of being unable to force Hezbollah to stop (also because of Hezbollah's patrons in Syria and Iran, and the support for Hezbollah among much of the Shi'ite people of Lebanon).
To some degree, perhaps the government of Lebanon (and opposition) is responsible for not being able to stop Hezbollah. It is rather a difficult issue for them, though, as Hezbollah has all but threatened a civil war if it was made to disarm.
Michael Totten has some interesting commentaries from his time in Lebanon, and there are quite a few Lebanese bloggers who post in English.
2) The Hezbollah military and political wings are completely identified with each other. Separating them is impossible. Their leaders boast about their weapons openly and make no pretense whatsoever of being separate from the militants.

3) Personally, Israel would be better served attacking Syria in response.
I always knew John was a smart guy. While there's nothing wrong with going after Lebanon, Israel needs and ought to know that the real key to controlling Hezbollah is Syria. Lebanon is rather impotent when it comes to Hezbollah... so I'm not sure any amount of damage to Lebanese infrastructure will accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
What about the connection to Iran?

Based on some of the articles I've seen today, I started to see a connection back to Iran:

1. In the fighting in Gaza, Hamas is apparently largely responsible for the capture of an Israeli soldier. This capture required digging a tunnel under an Israeli position, indicating significant planning and coordination and a long period of effort;

2. This capture predictably led to direct conflict with Israel rather than slow, unsexy financial strangulation of the Hamas-controlled PA;

3. A predictable result of Israel's invasion of Gaza is a diversion of attention from the Lebanon border, making a Hezbollah raid more likely to be successful;

4. Capturing soldiers has been a Hezbollah method for years, and has led to prisoner exchanges, including in 2004. This could indicate coordination with Hezbollah or even action at the direction of Hezbollah. It could also indicate training of Hamas by Hezbollah;

5. Iran is Hamas's major supporter, and has acted for and in coordination with Iran in the past, if my memory serves me;

6. Iran is currently facing international pressure over its nuclear program and is running out of options, most recently it was referred back to the Security Council, probably to face sanctions;

7. Iran has come to realize that mere footdragging isn't enough to keep its nuclear program going in the face of Security Council (and German) pressure;

8. Experts have said for a while that if it is challenged on its nuclear program, Iran will react asymmetrically, i.e., through its network of agents and its links with terrorists and groups like Hamas throughout the Middle East;

9. Iran could be striking out at Israel because it has been challenged by the West, as it has promised many times (though we keep ignoring those bombastic Ahmadinejad speeches);

10. Sheik Nasrallah promised that a kidnapping attack would go forward against Israel this year;

11. Hezbollah's attack, though probably popular among many Hezbollah supporters, makes little sense based on Hezbollah's political position in Lebanon. It seems more logical, however, if it is Hezbollah cooperating with its foreign sponsor Iran for Iran's gain;

12. Gideon Meir has said that Israel believes Hezbollah is trying to transfer the soldiers captured at the Lebanese border to Iran;

13. See this article from MEMRI. In statements published over the last few weeks, senior Iranian officials advocated an escalation of the violent activity against Israel and against "Zionists" around the world. Sounds like serious escalation was in the cards.

So what do you think? Is it Iran or what?
I'm with Prof. Porter on this one. I have been very surprised at the extent of Israeli reprisals, all the way to Beirut.

Even if Hezbollah is a party of government, I think it much wiser to recognize that it's patrons are in Syria and Iran. Hezbollah's coalition partners in Beirut may want nothing to do with its provocations of Israel.

Finally, there is the issue of democracy promotion. Perhaps with an elected Hamas government on their border, few Israelis have recognized that over the long term, their security depends on the spread of democracy to their neighbors.

Lebanon has taken bold steps in that direction which Israel should not imperil.
Hezbollah and Iran/Syria are indeed linked, but not to the extent people seem to think they are. Iran and Syria have tried to distance themselves from Hezbollah actions when it didn't serve their broader goal, or when it resulted in the West putting pressure on Tehran or Damascus. Likewise, Hezbollah has stated outright that they were not going to come to the aid of Iran if the West started to up the pressure of Tehran.


>>"Hizbollah is not a tool of Iran, it is a Lebanese project that implements the demands of Lebanese," Kassem said in an interview in the Hizbollah-controlled southern suburb of Beirut.

"Iran is a big country with real capabilities and can defend itself if it is exposed to American danger."<<

A lot of people who rightly dismiss the claims that fundamentalists/secularists and Shi'ites/Sunnis wouldn't work together are too willing to accept the claim that Hezbollah is 100% the tool of Iran and Syria used only to further the interests of Tehran and Damascus. Hezbollah has its own goals and interests, independent of Syria and Iran. Going after Syria would take care of Assad, and going after Iran would take out Ahmadinejad and the mad mullahs, all of which would be a good thing, in my book. But it's unlikely to do much to affect Hezbollah. That's why you have to go directly after Hezbollah itself.
That said - Israel should probably not stick around and try to run Lebanon. Support was high for Israeli intervention to oust the PLO - until they decided to stick around and run the country themselves. Then all of the public support went to Hezbollah and Amal. We all know how that turned out - not exactly a victory in the end for Israel.
A thought I had about -

a) how far can we say that the state of Lebanon is, in fact, implicated in the resumption of Hezbollah terror -

Nasrallah is acting as a crime boss, using kidnapping and extortion to achieve his aims. I figure Lebanon should either a) arrest, investigate and prosecute him, or b) shelter him. Not following up on the first means that Lebanon *is* complicit in his group's actions.
David in DC - That assumption is ridiculous. Think back to the National Counterterrorism Strategy (maybe it was the NSS, I don't remember) of 2002/2003. States were broken down into three categories. The first were those that actively fought terrorists operating within their borders. (Most countries that have a terrorist problem) The second were those who were unwilling to fight terrorists operating within their borders (Iran, Syria, etc). The third were those countries that wanted to fight terrorists operating within their borders, but were to weak to do so. Examples of this one include Philippines (re: Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups operating in the south), Indonesia (re: Jemaah Islamiya) and, now, Lebanon.

Do you really think someone in the Lebanese government can order the police/army to just go right into the Hizballah stronghold and arrest Nasrallah? Do you think those soldiers/police will even make it out of there alive? The West should have been helping the Lebanese government strengthen its position all along now since the Cedar Revolution, but we really haven't. We got the publicity, the election, the demonstrations and we just went ahead and scored another victory for democracy. Unfortunately it's not that easy. Now Hizballah is back in action, and there's very little the Lebanese government can do about it right now. I don't envy the position that government is in at this moment.
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