Friday, August 04, 2006

"Syria Wants to Talk" by Imad Mustapha

As of Friday, the UN Security Council has made little progress in drafting a resolution to end the Lebanon conflict despite efforts made by France and the US to close their disagreements on measures necessary for a cease-fire agreement. Secretary Rice, in a sign of maximum US effort, says she has ordered US diplomats to work on the weekend. Naharnet explains:

The new French text is only slightly changed from the earlier version it distributed to the Security Council on Sunday.

It still calls for an "immediate cessation of hostilities" and once a political agreement is in place for the sending of an international force to south Lebanon.

But it also demands "full respect" of the Blue Line, the unofficial frontier between Israel and Lebanon, by both sides.

It calls for the disarming of Hizbullah and the release of two Israeli soldiers abducted by the militia -- the act which sparked Israel's military offensive.
The draft calls on Israel to give the United Nations the maps of landmines it has left in southern Lebanon and the implementation of a 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Lebanon.

The Blue Line dates from the 1949 armistice agreement, one of many signed by Israel at the time to end the Arab-Israeli War.

The text also calls for "the settlement" of a dispute over Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.(AFP)
The key deal-breaker is respect for the blue line and the 1949 armistice. This would deprive Israel of the right to over-fly Lebanese airspace, something Israel has done since the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975. It would also deprive Israel of the right to launch raids into Lebanon and police or pound the new free-fire zone it is creating with cannon fire. If such language is introduced into a UN resolution, Israel will lose its bargaining position, which is to trade land for Hizbullah's dissolution.

Every time Israel disregarded Lebanese sovereignty, the Lebanese government would have an instrument to compel the UN to make a statement condemning Israel. The US would be forced to veto the measure in the UN to protect Israel. It would embarrass the US to do this and create a situation in which the US would find itself isolated in the UN. Furthermore, it would provide Russia and China a bargaining position over Iran. Each time the US asked them to sign a resolution condemning Iran, Russia and China might ask Washington to vote positively on efforts to uphold Lebanese sovereignty at the expense of Israel's right to self defense. Other nations would be able to do the same.

Hassan Fattah has a good article in the NY Times explaining the remaining disputes between the French and US over the resolution.

Here is the clearest statement of Syrian policy put forward by any Syrian official. Syria's ambassador to the US makes a forceful argument for why the US should engage Syria.

Syria Wants to Talk, But Bush Won't Answer the Phone
Damascus has effectively cooperated with Washington on terrorism, says Syria's ambassador.

By Imad Moustapha,
IMAD MOUSTAPHA is the Syrian ambassador to the United States.
LA Times
August 4, 2006

LATE LAST MONTH, a number of congressmen called me and asked for an urgent, unscheduled meeting. There, at the Rayburn House Office Building, we spent a couple of hours discussing in-depth the crisis in the Middle East. The paramount concern of these legislators was not the typical Capitol Hill rhetoric (offering unconditional support for Israel, or delivering the routine condemnation and demonization of Syria). Instead, they simply wanted to know what they could do to stop the ongoing massacre in Lebanon.

Their frustration and exasperation about the total nonchalance of the U.S. administration was overwhelming. The very first question they had for me was to clarify the confusion about whether the White House is talking to Syria or not. Although the media have reported that no contacts have been made between the two countries over the last three weeks, administration officials have sent vague signals that this might be happening through back channels.

But no communication whatsoever has taken place. U.S. policy remains to ignore the Syrian government. And it remains fundamentally wrong.

It hasn't always been this way. When President George H.W. Bush faced Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he realized the strategic need for Syria and knew how to lure us into the American-led alliance: by inviting Syria to the Madrid peace conference.

As a result, and within a short period of time, the Clinton administration engaged Syria and Israel in serious peace talks that, had they succeeded, would have created a very different paradigm in this troubled area.

In Syria, we consider the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as the fatal blow that felled the peace efforts, and since that tragic event, Israel has had no leader with the courage or vision required to accept the inevitable "land for peace" compromise enshrined in U.N. Security Council resolutions 224 and 338.

In sharp contrast, the current U.S. administration has publicly dissuaded Israel from responding to the repeated Syrian invitations to revive the peace process. Syria still hopes that this position might change, as there exists a growing alienation against the U.S. and its policies in the Arab and Islamic world, which is undoubtedly creating fertile breeding conditions for terrorism.

Syria thought that the atrocious events of Sept. 11, 2001, would be a much-needed wake-up call for the Bush administration.

After Sept. 11, we cooperated with the U.S. in fighting terrorism. Syria had been fighting extreme fundamentalist movements in the region for the previous three decades, so we promptly initiated intelligence and security cooperation with the U.S., providing a wealth of information about Al Qaeda, some of which was described in a letter to Congress by former Secretary of State Colin Powell as "actionable information" that led to "saving American lives." Consequently, bilateral relations improved dramatically at the time, much to the chagrin of the neoconservative cabal that doggedly opposed any engagement with Syria, no matter how productive.

This effective cooperation ended when Syria and the U.S. found themselves at odds over how to address the Iraqi problem. Syria fiercely opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and continues to do so. The fact that Hussein was Syria's archenemy did not blind our eyes to the grave consequences such an occupation would bear on our region: bloodshed, destruction, instability, extremism and the ugly face of sectarianism.

The Bush administration never forgave Syria for its opposition to the war. Despite the fact that Syrian-U.S. intelligence and security cooperation continued, even after the fallout on Iraq, well up to January 2005, heavyweights in the White House continued to engage in a rhetorical campaign against Syria. Members of Congress, influenced by the powerful pro-Israel lobby, overwhelmingly passed the Syria Accountability Act in November 2003, enacting trade sanctions on Damascus without serious debate or reference to the crucial intelligence support provided by Syria.

Concurrently, administration officials devised a new "policy" toward my country: Don't talk to Syria at all, and maybe its regime will collapse.

That is why the U.S. decided to change its 20-year position toward Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Suddenly, Syria's "stabilizing and necessary presence" in Lebanon became, overnight and without any change in Syria's behavior, "an evil occupation that should immediately be ended."

The underlying idea behind demanding Syrian withdrawal was simple: It would precipitate the fall of the Syrian regime, and the U.S. would end up with a new government in Damascus that is both Israel-friendly and an ally of the U.S. Does that have any resemblance to the neoconservative justification for the war on Iraq?

To the dismay of U.S. policymakers, this belligerent attitude only rallied Syrians behind their own government.

Ultimately, the Bush administration has to realize that by trying to isolate Syria politically and diplomatically, the U.S. continues to lose ability to influence a major player in the Middle East. In the wake of the ongoing instability in Iraq and violence in Palestine and Lebanon, it begs the larger question: Has isolating Syria made the region more secure?

Currently, the White House doesn't talk to the democratically elected government of Palestine. It does not talk to Hezbollah, which has democratically elected members in the Lebanese parliament and is a member of the Lebanese coalition government. It does not talk to Iran, and it certainly does not talk to Syria.

Gone are the days when U.S. special envoys to the Middle East would spend hours, if not days, with Syrian officials brainstorming, discussing, negotiating and looking for creative solutions leading to a compromise or settlement. Instead, this administration follows the Bolton Doctrine: There is no need to talk to Syria, because Syria knows what it needs to do. End of the matter.

When the United States realizes that it is high time to reconsider its policies toward Syria, Syria will be more than willing to engage. However, the rules of the game should be clear. As President Bashar Assad has said, Syria is not a charity. If the U.S. wants something from Syria, then Syria requires something in return from the U.S.: Let us address the root cause of instability in the Middle East.

The current crisis in Lebanon needs an urgent solution because of the disastrous human toll. Moreover, the whole Middle East deserves a comprehensive deal that would put an end to occupation and allow all countries to equally prosper and live in dignity and peace.
Marwan al-Kabalan deftly sums up the dispute in Washington over the pros and cons of engaging Syria in his article: "Engaging Syria helps prevent wider conflict," published in Gulf News.


At 8/04/2006 09:19:00 AM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

Again, day after day, Dr. Landis proves to be a great asset for justice and peace for all the peoples of the Middle East.

At 8/04/2006 09:42:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/04/2006 10:02:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Imad, Do you want some cheese with that whine.

At 8/04/2006 10:11:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

I usually do not copy articles but thought this was worth sharing (front page of the wall street journal)

>Ancient Rift
>Rising Academic
>Sees Sectarian Split
>Inflaming Mideast
>Vali Nasr Says 'Shiite Revival'
>Is Met by Sunni Backlash;
>Resurgent Iran Leads Way
>Can Mullahs be Moderated?
>August 4, 2006; Page A1
>WASHINGTON -- As Vali Nasr dashed for the airport last week after briefing a
>small group of academics and policy makers here, a hand pulled the political
>scientist aside.
>"That was the most coherent, in-depth and incisive discussion of the religious
>situation in the Middle East that I've heard in any setting," said Richard Land,
> a Southern Baptist leader and influential conservative.
>Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations
>Committee, heaped similar praise on Mr. Nasr in May for giving what Mr. Biden
>called the most "concise and coherent" testimony on Iran he had ever heard.
>From the violence in the Mideast, new realities are emerging -- and a new
>generation of experts to interpret them. Shiite Muslims are asserting themselves
> as never before. Followers of this branch of Islam, generally backbenchers in
>the region's power game, are central players in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq -- often
>acting out against traditional powers such as Israel, the U.S., and Sunni Arab
>Mr. Nasr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.,
>calls this a historic "Shiite revival" and has gone further than most in
>identifying it as a central force in Mideast politics. He also frames a possible
> U.S. response: Engage Iran, especially over the issue of reducing violence in
>Iraq, and try to manage Tehran's rise as a regional power rather than isolating
>The issues are more than academic for the 46-year-old professor. He was raised
>in Tehran and hails from a prominent intellectual and literary family in Iran
>that traces its lineage to the prophet Muhammad. His father was once president
>of Iran's top science university and chief of staff for the shah's wife.
>In 1979, after the Iranian revolution, the Nasrs "started from zero" in the
>U.S., says Mr. Nasr. He received a doctorate in political science from the
>Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing his thesis on the political
>dimensions of radical Islam, while his father, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, became a
>renowned professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.
>The younger Mr. Nasr has laid out his views in a series of speeches and
>articles, as well as a new book. He is gaining a wide hearing in Washington.
>"The problem with the current Middle East debate is it's completely stuck.
>Nobody knows what to do," says political economist Francis Fukuyama of Johns
>Hopkins University, who attended Mr. Nasr's private briefing last week. "Vali
>Nasr offers a plausible alternative that may gain traction."
>Mr. Nasr's analysis begins with the idea that the removal of Saddam Hussein in
>Iraq has transformed the Mideast, but not in the ways promised by President
>Bush. By replacing Iraq's Sunni-led dictatorship with an elected government
>dominated by the country's Shiite majority, the U.S. destroyed the Sunni wall
>that had contained the restless Shiite power to the east, Iran. The clerical
>regime in Tehran was immeasurably strengthened.
>Reopening a Fault Line
>This power shift, Mr. Nasr argues, has reopened an ancient fault line between
>Shiites and Sunnis that crosses the entire region. The schism dates back to the
>prophet Muhammad's death in 632, when his companions -- the forebears of the
>Sunnis -- chose Muhammad's close friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, to succeed
>him and become Islam's first caliph. Shiites believe Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali,
> was more deserving.
>Ali managed to become Islam's fourth caliph, only to face multiple rebellions.
>He was ultimately murdered while at prayer at a shrine in what is now Iraq. His
>son, Hussein, refused to accept his father's Sunni usurpers and was slain 19
>years later.
>Shiites commemorate Hussein's murder in the holiday called Ashura, a 10-day
>period of mourning and self-flagellation. Their reverence for Hussein's stand
>against tyranny is the touchstone of Shiite political passions -- often invoked
>during the Iranian revolution, the ensuing war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq,
>and even recently by the leader of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah in its
>war against Israel. Traditional Sunnis view Shiites as heretics, led astray by
>Persian Zoroastrianism and other pagan beliefs.
>Today, the conflict is most visible in Iraq, where foreign and local Sunni
>insurgents refuse to accede to the country's Shiite majority. But Mr. Nasr sees
>the backlash in Iraq as auguring a wave of similar sectarian battles in a broad
>swath of Asia from Lebanon to Pakistan where the populations of the two sects
>are roughly even.
>"In the coming years, Shiites and Sunnis will compete over power, first in Iraq
>but ultimately across the entire region," Mr. Nasr writes in his new book, "The
>Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future," published by
>W.W. Norton & Co. "The overall Sunni-Shiite conflict will play a large role in
>defining the Middle East as a whole and shaping its relations with the outside
>For the U.S., the Sunni-Shiite divide is fraught with challenges -- and
>opportunities. By creating in Iraq the first Shiite-led state in the Arab world
>since the rise of Islam (Iran is mostly ethnic Persian), the U.S. ignited
>aspirations among some 150 million Shiites in the region, Mr. Nasr says. Many
>live under Sunni rule, such as in Saudi Arabia, where they have long been
>persecuted. Yet U.S. foreign policy still operates under the "old paradigm" of
>Sunni dominance, he contends.
>Take the current crisis in Lebanon. The U.S. has long relied on its traditional
>Sunni Arab allies -- Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- to keep the Arab-Israeli
>conflict in check. But now the Sunni axis is failing, says Mr. Nasr, because
>these nations are incapable of containing a resurgent Iran and its radical
>clients on the front lines against Israel -- Hezbollah and the Palestinian group
> Hamas.
>To adapt, the U.S. must "recalibrate" its diplomacy and re-establish contacts
>with Iran, he says. That would require disavowing any interest in "regime
>change" in Tehran -- an unrealistic aim anyway, Mr. Nasr argues -- but would
>offer the best hope of moderating Iran's growing influence.
>"The Iranian genie isn't going back in the bottle," he says. "If we deny these
>changes have happened -- that Cairo, Amman and Riyadh have lost control of the
>region -- and we continue to exclude Iran, we'd better be prepared to spend a
>lot of money on troops in the region for a long time," Mr. Nasr says.
>The Bush administration is listening to Mr. Nasr, but his influence on U.S.
>policy is unclear. Two White House foreign-policy aides attended his talk here
>last week. And last year, Mr. Nasr briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
>Since last year the influence of neoconservatives who championed the invasion of
> Iraq has ebbed at the White House, and Mr. Bush recently held a roundtable
>discussion at Camp David with other analysts critical of his Iraq policy.
>One White House official points out that Mr. Nasr's prescription assumes the
>U.S., by recognizing and engaging Iran as a regional power, could moderate its
>behavior. But that outcome, the official adds, doesn't inevitably flow from Mr.
>Nasr's core argument about the Shiite revival. Many Republican foreign-policy
>specialists, including some who opposed the Iraq war, believe Iran is a threat
>and may have to be confronted militarily if diplomatic efforts fail.
>In the Lebanon crisis, the U.S. has so far ruled out talking to Syria or Iran,
>Hezbollah's main suppliers of money and missiles. "Frankly, there is nothing to
>negotiate," White House spokesman Tony Snow has said.
>Mr. Nasr sees it differently. Hezbollah's brazen attack on Israel July 12, and
>its heady self-confidence from parrying Israel's onslaught since then,
>illustrate why the U.S. needs a new policy toward Iran and the region's Shiites,
> he says. Immediately after the fighting stops in Lebanon, he says, the U.S.
>should convene a conference with all of the interested parties -- including
>Syria and Iran -- to redraw Lebanon's political map. In 1989, Saudi Arabia
>convened a similar conference in the Saudi city of Taif that helped end
>Lebanon's civil war by redistributing political power among the country's four
>main religious groups.
>Lebanon's Sunnis emerged from Taif much stronger, particularly under Prime
>Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni construction magnate who helped rebuild Beirut
>after the civil war. Mr. Nasr sees the Shiites, who he estimates make up 40% to
>50% of Lebanon's population, as relatively disenfranchised. Shiites hold just 35
> of 128 seats in Lebanon's Parliament, largely because the country hasn't held a
> census since 1932. Lebanon's system assigns the nonexecutive post of
>parliamentary speaker to a Shiite but bars Shiites from becoming president or
>prime minister.
>Mr. Nasr says the crisis in Lebanon underscores the importance of engaging Iran
>as the U.S. did after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. At a
>conference in Bonn, Germany, the U.S. and Iran negotiated extensively, giving
>rise to the relatively stable government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In
>Lebanon, America's Sunni Arab allies are likely to oppose apportioning rival
>Shiites greater political power. Mr. Nasr argues that is the only way to give
>Lebanon's Shiites -- and Iran -- a stake in stability.
>"You can beat Hezbollah to a pulp, but you can't change the fact that around 45%
> of Lebanese are Shiites," Mr. Nasr says.
>Mr. Nasr also sees room for engagement with Tehran over Iraq. Prior to the
>toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Bush administration argued change in
>Iraq would help spawn democracy in the region. At a seminar in Toronto around
>the start of the war, historian Bernard Lewis, who was instrumental in advising
>Vice President Dick Cheney and other top U.S. officials on the Iraq invasion,
>said: "The Iranian regime won't last very long after an overthrow of the regime
>in Iraq, and many other regimes in the region will feel threatened."
>This prediction was based on a pivotal misunderstanding about Iraq's Shiites,
>Mr. Nasr says: that their Iraqi and Arab identity would supersede their Shiite
>affinity with Iran. As it turned out, as soon as Shiites took power in Iraq,
>they eagerly threw open the gates to Iranian influence and support. Now, Iran
>operates a vast network of allies and clients in Iraq, Mr. Nasr says, ranging
>from intelligence agents and militias to top politicians in Iraq's Shiite
>"Ethnic antagonism [between Arabs and Persians] cannot possibly be all-important
> when Iraq's supreme religious leader is Iranian and Iran's chief justice is
>Iraqi," writes Mr. Nasr in the current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. The
>references are to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Iranian-born Iraqi religious
>leader, and the Iraqi-born head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud
>Mr. Lewis, in a phone interview, says he still believes the "tyrannies"
>neighboring Iraq feel threatened by the prospect of a stable democracy in
>Baghdad. He says Iran's activities in its neighbor are a sign of its fears.
>Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, quipped about Iran's influence in
> a recent speech in Washington. When he met his Iranian counterpart in
>Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad said, "I used to joke with him that 'you guys ought
>to be much more helpful to us, because look, you couldn't deal with the Taliban
>problem, you couldn't deal with the Saddam problem, and we've dealt with both.
>That's a big deal. We'll send you a bill one day for that.' "
>Two Main Threats
>Mr. Nasr sees two main threats arising from today's Shiite revival. The first is
> Iranian nationalism, fueled by perceptions in Iran that a Sunni Arab-U.S. nexus
> wants to stifle its rise as a regional power. That explains the widespread
>support among Iranians for their country's nuclear program, he says. It also
>explains why some Iranian leaders have been sounding less like Islamic
>revolutionaries and more like the late shah, a Persian nationalist who extended
>Iran's influence into Shiite and Farsi-speaking areas beyond its borders.
>The second major threat, he says, is the Sunni reaction to the Shiite revival.
>As Iraq's insurgents have shown, hatred of Shiites is ingrained in Sunni
>militancy, Mr. Nasr says. He worries about a replay of the 1980s and 1990s, when
> Saudi money poured into Sunni extremist groups throughout the region to counter
> the Shiite fervor coming out of Iran after the revolution. The same groups
>became the backbone of al Qaeda, Mr. Nasr says.
>In a speech last year in New York, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud
>al-Faisal, said it "seems out of this world" that U.S. forces would protect
>allies of Iran who are building a power base in Iraq. "Now we are handing the
>whole country over to Iran without reason," the prince said.
>But Mr. Nasr says U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq may converge because both
>want lasting stability there. Comparing Iran to 19th-century Prussia and Japan
>of the 1930s, he says it is important to manage the rise of regional powers.
>"You can't regulate them by isolating them," he says.
>Write to Peter Waldman at peter.waldman@wsj.com1

At 8/04/2006 10:30:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

"It has now become clear that the assault on Lebanon to wipe out Hizbullah had been prepared long before. Israel's crimes had been given a green light by the US and its loyal British ally, despite the opposition to Blair in his own country."

Tariq Ali
Noam Chomsky
Eduardo Galeano
Howard Zinn
Ken Loach
John Berger
Arundhati Roy

War crimes and Lebanon, The Guardian, August 3, 2006

"I am told that the Israelis informed George W Bush in advance of their plans to "destroy" Hezbollah by bombing villages in southern Lebanon. The Americans duly informed the British. So Blair knew. This exposes as a fraud the debate of the past week about calling for a ceasefire. Indeed, one of the reasons why negotiations failed in Rome was British obduracy. This has been a case not of turning a blind eye and failing to halt the onslaught, but of providing active support.

Blair, like Bush, had no intention of urging the Israelis to slow down their bombardment, believing somehow that this struggle was winnable. Israel has a right to self-defence, but it could have responded to the seizure of its soldiers, and to the rocket attacks, by the diplomatic route. That would have ensured greater sympathy. Now, growing numbers in Israel itself realise that military action will bring no long-term solution."

John Kampfner, Blood on His Hands, New Statesman

"But Dr John Pike, head of the Washington-based military think tank Global Security, said: 'Has the U.S. given Israel a green light to attack Hezbollah and push its troops into southern Lebanon? Yes, of course it has.'

Dr Pike said he believed there was an agreement between Israel and the U.S. that Iranian nuclear plants would eventually - probably next year - have to be bombed to stop the development of a nuclear weapon. Once that bombing takes place, Iran will order Hezbollah to attack Israel. Thus, Dr Pike claimed, the U.S. and Israel agreed in secret that at some point before the attack on the Iranian nuclear sites, Hezbollah had to be disarmed and that as soon as a pretext became available, Israel should use force."

"Israel: Did Blair know all along?", Daily Mail, August 4, 2006

At 8/04/2006 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Optimistic One said...

Although Imad Moustapha comments should be taken with a grain of salt, he continues to support my personal opinion that the narrow sighted and closed minded advisors to our current President has damaged the relationship between Americans and the Arab world.

Hopefully the friendship between the two will be revived with the next President; a relationship based on respect, honor, trust, dignity, cooperation, and a sharing in ideas on how to reduce the statue of militancy in solving problems and increase the mutual understanding of the human needs that desparately need attention....needs such as education and job skills training so investment in industries can begin that eventually will give the region's people a stable livelyhood and accomodate peace.

At 8/04/2006 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Optimistic One said...

Should Hezbollah Be Next?
By Daniel Byman
From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2003

Prehaps the time has come for the world to re-examine who the real devil in the Middle East is......who is the real Satan that is responsible for the blood that flows from Israel to the border of Iran-Iraq.

Those who have been brain-washed in Iranian sponsored schools since the age of 4yrs-old need not read the piece below, your heart of forgiveness has already been cut-out by the Iranian-Nazi teachers who taught you lies.

Summary: The radical Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah is fomenting violence in post-war Iraq and fanning the flames of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its bloody track record makes it a natural target in the war on terror. But Washington's only option is to confront Hezbollah indirectly: by getting its backers, Syria and Iran, to help change its focus from militancy to politics.

Daniel Byman wrote this in 2003 for Foreign Affairs, November/December 2003
and is an Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.


On September 20, 2001, in a historic speech to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush famously declared, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." Few terrorist organizations meet this standard, but Hezbollah is definitely one of them. The Lebanon-based group has cells on every continent, and its highly skilled operatives have committed horrifying attacks as far away as Argentina. Before September 11, 2001, it was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization. Hassan Nasrallah, the group's secretary-general, recently proclaimed, "Death to America was, is, and will stay our slogan." Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000, Hezbollah has armed and trained Palestinian terrorists, further fraying the already tattered peace process. Hezbollah operatives have reportedly traveled to postwar Iraq to rekindle historic ties with Iraqi Shi'ites.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many in the United States have argued that Hezbollah should be the next target in the war on terror. Shortly after September 11, a group of leading scholars, pundits, and former government officials, including William Kristol and Richard Perle, declared in an open letter to President Bush that "any war on terrorism must target Hezbollah" and urged that military action be considered against the movement's state sponsors, Syria and Iran. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has warned of Hezbollah's lethality, noting that "Hezbollah may be the A team of terrorists," while "al Qaeda is actually the B team."

Given the organization's record of bloodshed and hostility, the question is not whether Hezbollah should be stopped; it is how. A campaign against it similar to the U.S. effort against al Qaeda -- killing the group's leaders and ending its haven in Lebanon -- would probably fail and might even backfire. Syria and Iran openly support it, and much of the Arab world regards it as heroic, for its successful resistance against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (the only time that Arab arms have forced Israel to surrender territory), and legitimate, because of its participation in Lebanese parliamentary politics. Even officials in France, Canada, and other Western nations have acknowledged the value of its social and political projects.

To have any chance of success, a U.S. military operation would have to involve a sustained counterinsurgency campaign -- something that Israel tried for 20 years, only to find that its efforts strengthened Hezbollah's resolve and increased its local and regional appeal. In response to a U.S. attack, Hezbollah might activate its cells in Asia, Europe, and Latin America -- and possibly in the United States itself. The United States, furthermore, is today in a far worse position militarily and diplomatically than it was before the war in Iraq. Occupying Iraq is tough enough; a fight in the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon, would only make things worse.

The upshot is that although Washington should indeed confront Hezbollah, it should do so indirectly. However morally justified an all-out attack would be, reducing Hezbollah's terrorist activity requires avoiding the temptation to overreach. Instead, Washington must apply pressure through Syria and Iran. Only Damascus has the necessary intelligence assets and force on the ground in Lebanon to shut down Hezbollah's militant activities. The right combination of carrots and sticks would lead Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crack down on his erstwhile proxy. Pressure on Iran, meanwhile, would help cut off Hezbollah's global network and might persuade it to focus on Lebanese politics rather than anti-American violence. Although convincing a hissing Damascus and a fractured Tehran to cooperate will be difficult, such a strategy is more prudent than launching a doomed direct confrontation that would further inflame anti-Americanism. With skill, Washington can transform Hezbollah into just one more Lebanese political faction -- one that continues to be hostile but no longer poses a major threat to the United States and its interests.


In the U.S. demonology of terrorism, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are relative newcomers. For most of the past two decades, Hezbollah has claimed pride of place as the top concern of U.S. counterterrorism officials. It was Hezbollah that pioneered the use of suicide bombing, and its record of attacks on the United States and its allies would make even bin Laden proud: the bombing of the U.S. marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the U.S. embassy there in 1983 and 1984; the hijacking of twa flight 847 and murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem in 1985; a series of lethal attacks on Israeli targets in Lebanon; the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992 and of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994. More recently, Hezbollah operatives have plotted to blow up the Israeli embassy in Thailand, and a Lebanese member of Hezbollah was indicted for helping to design the truck bomb that flattened the Khobar Towers U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia in 1996. As CIA director George Tenet testified earlier this year, "Hezbollah, as an organization with capability and worldwide presence, is [al Qaeda's] equal, if not a far more capable organization. I actually think they're a notch above in many respects."

In the course of its 20-year history, Hezbollah has amply demonstrated its hostility, its lethality, and its skill. However, to focus exclusively on this record is to miss how much it has evolved over the past two decades -- an evolution that has altered both the nature of the threat and the best means of confronting it.

Hezbollah today is dramatically different from the ragtag collection of Shi'ite fighters that first emerged in the early 1980s. In 1982, in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, Israel invaded Lebanon in an effort to expel Palestinian guerrillas there. The Shi'ites, traditionally underrepresented in Lebanese politics, welcomed the Israelis, whom they saw as protection against the Palestinian militias that dominated much of southern Lebanon. Israel overstayed its welcome, however, and the Shi'ite community soon turned against it. As the situation unraveled, the United States deployed peacekeepers to Beirut and worked to form a new government. Although the Amal movement, until that time the leading voice of the Shi'ite community, embraced the U.S.- and Israeli-backed regime, much of its constituency rejected this cooperation and denounced the government as a puppet of Israel. Syria and Iran encouraged such dissent; Iran hoped to export its Islamic revolution to Lebanon, and both Syria and Iran sought to use the Shi'ites as a proxy force against Israel. With support from Damascus, Tehran helped organize, arm, train, inspire, and unite various Shi'ite groups into the movement that became known as Hezbollah -- "party of God."

The organization literally exploded into the world's consciousness with devastating suicide attacks on the U.S. embassy and marine barracks in Beirut, causing over 250 American casualties. As a result, Washington concluded that there was little peace to keep in Lebanon and withdrew its forces in 1984. Israel suffered similar blows, fighting a long, bitter struggle against relatively autonomous fighters who became more and more effective over time. Faced with ferocious Hezbollah resistance, Israel withdrew to a "security zone" in southern Lebanon in 1985 and, 15 years later, left Lebanon altogether.

In Hezbollah's struggle to expel Israel from Lebanon in the 1990s, much of its activity vis-à-vis Israel was best characterized as guerrilla warfare rather than terrorism. The vast majority of Hezbollah's actions were focused on Israeli military personnel on Lebanese soil and intended to drive Israel out of the country. At times, however, Hezbollah did target civilians, through operations such as Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli settlements near the border and the attacks in Argentina. Hezbollah's supporters argue that such strikes occurred only after Israel violated "red lines" or escalated tensions by assassinating Hezbollah leaders.

Both Hezbollah's terrorist actions and its guerrilla warfare are facilitated by the group's extensive international network. Hezbollah operatives have been found in France, Spain, Cyprus, Singapore, the "triborder" region of South America, and the Philippines, as well as in more familiar operational theaters in Europe and the Middle East. The movement draws on these cells to raise money, prepare the logistic infrastructure for attacks, disseminate propaganda, and otherwise ensure that the organization remains robust and ready to strike. In 2001, U.S. federal investigators discovered a Hezbollah fundraising cell in North Carolina.

Hezbollah's founding document calls for Islamic rule in Lebanon, an end to Western imperialism, and the destruction of the state of Israel. But the group has now abandoned these founding principles, at least in practice. Hezbollah leaders participate in Lebanon's political system, and some have rejected the forceful imposition of Islam. Hezbollah still denounces the United States, but it has become much more cautious in its opposition. It has not been involved in an attack on a U.S. target since the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, when it assisted others rather than using its own capability.

Direct attacks on Israel have also become rare since the withdrawal from southern Lebanon. This decrease, however, is not a sign that the movement has accepted Israel's existence. Rather, Hezbollah has shifted to helping Palestinian terrorist groups become more lethal -- exporting what journalist James Kitfield has labeled "the Hezbollah model" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hezbollah has proved the single most effective adversary Israel has ever faced. Its fighters and leaders have demonstrated exceptional dedication and an ability to learn from mistakes and innovate quickly. Palestinians regularly cite Hezbollah's combination of skilled operations, willing sacrifice, and emphasis on long-term struggle as a guide to their own efforts. And even militias affiliated with Yasir Arafat's secular Palestinian faction Fatah have followed Hezbollah's example, resorting to the sort of suicide terror that had heretofore been the province of Palestinian Islamists. Since the outbreak of the al Aqsa intifada in October 2000, Hezbollah has provided guerrilla training, bomb-building expertise, propaganda, and tactical tips to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other anti-Israeli groups. There are also reports that Hezbollah is trying to establish its own Palestinian proxy, the Return Brigades. Such support for Palestinian terrorists has helped disrupt the peace process at little cost to Hezbollah itself.

Exporting its model of conflict while limiting actual attacks allows the movement to continue its fight without alienating its Lebanese constituents (many of whom fear an Israeli backlash) or its backers in Tehran and Damascus (who fear U.S. retaliation). Ominously, Iraq may become the site of Hezbollah's newest proxy war. In May, Nasrallah called for supporting "the oppressed" when they are "occupied," an attempt to equate the U.S. presence in Iraq with Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. He has thus far avoided openly urging foreign volunteers to enter Iraq, but the postwar chaos has clearly provided fertile ground for Hezbollah's expansion. Many of the movement's founders studied in seminaries in Iraq, and Lebanese Shi'ites maintain ties with their Iraqi brethren. The relative disorganization of Iraqi Shi'ites provides an opportunity for Hezbollah to gain a foothold there, and much of the Arab world would support Hezbollah action against "the American invader."

At 8/04/2006 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

""Syria Wants to Talk" by Imad Mustapha "

I'd rather see Lebanon burned to the ground than see Syria in its arsonist fireman role. Lebanese are used to Syria instigating conflicts in their country trough local proxies and then posing as the arbiter who calls for cease-fire and who is needed to maintain stability. Syrians have been playing this game since the 60's, enough is enough.

Syrians are convinced that they have nothing to do with the Lebanese war, but this is exactly how they created a war in 75. Syria armed a few factions (the Palestinians then, the Hezbollah now), these factions started a war, and then Syria intervened to maintain its so-called peace.

At 8/04/2006 11:59:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur would there have been Palestinians in Lebanon if Israel had not done what it did in 1956 and 1967? Blaming Syria is rather funny remembering who armed the other side, Israel and its proxy army in Lebanon. Certainly Syria did not arm all the sides in the civil war. I suppose that the sift in populations religious distribution contra political power was the real trigger.

Vox Populi it is certainly a fact that Israel has destroyed Lebanon during the past decades more than Syria ever managed (if it did at all). Actually the UN buffer zone should be on Israel’s side. On the other hand neighbour countries always have influence to every countries politics and actions. Big neighbours more than little ones. Only idiot would say Sweden and especially Russia have no influence what Finland does and that they would not tell what they want Finland to do, or that USA doesn’t try influence Mexico (+ all other countries in the world).

Israel is now burning Lebanon not Syria. It is more and more obvious that this Israel’s "reaction" is preparation of the battle field for future Anglo-American adventures in Middle East.

At 8/04/2006 05:54:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur would there have been Palestinians in Lebanon if Israel had not done what it did in 1956 and 1967? Blaming Syria is rather funny remembering who armed the other side, Israel and its proxy army in Lebanon. Certainly Syria did not arm all the sides in the civil war. I suppose that the sift in populations religious distribution contra political power was the real trigger."

No one side begin the war. And it was armed by Syria. When the Christians went to Israel to get arms (and not the other way around, we armed ourselves, we didn't get armed, use the active voice), the war had already begun.

Morevoer, you know nothing about the destruction Syria brought to Lebanon. For decades your glorious killed, massacred, raped and kidnapped even more than Israel. There were Syrians soldiers disguised as Palestinian terrorist during the Damour massacre - a massacre done by the Saika and the Syrian PLA, terrorist groups that are under direct Syrian command. I have received more Syrian shells on my house then there is fingers in your hands. When the Syrian army entered Baabda in the final battle against your current friend (Aoun) there was massacres, rape on a large scale. Even monks and nuns were summarily shot. We haven't forgotten, we will never forget. So Lebanon can burn to ashes, but Syria and its army of dirty peasants shall never come back.

At 8/04/2006 07:00:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Hmmm Vox Populi move to Israel, then you can discuss with your spiritual fellows about "dirty peasants".

Russians have killed my relatives in wars more han you have fingers. Still I like Russians when I have visited Russia. They are friendly and hospitable people.

By the way Vox Minority a rather big amount of Lebanese Christians seem now to support Hezbollah. Strange isn't it.


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