Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lebanese Government

The Fall of Beirut

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

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Lebanese Must Do More to Help Themselves

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

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Hezbollah Threatens to Take Over Lebanon

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

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Misplaced Principles

The thesis of Max Boot’s post yesterday, on the possibility that a friendly grenade killed British aid worker Linda Norgrove, is well-taken. Hewing to a blindly narrow principle of fault-finding, as if the context of a tragedy doesn’t matter, is unworkable for sound judgment and policy. It produces kindergarten behavior: tearful demands for vengeance against whoever dealt the last slap or taunt, regardless of what the fray was about.

But absurdly narrow principles don’t stop with fault-finding. The U.S. is invoking a surreally absolute principle of “national sovereignty” this week in addressing Lebanon on the subject of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, for which the Iranian leader reportedly left Tehran this afternoon. This visit is the most freighted one the Middle East has seen in decades. It represents the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary seal being affixed publicly to Lebanon – an egregious display Iran has been wary of mounting until now.

Al-Qaeda is apparently clearer on the import of this visit than the U.S. State Department. An affiliate calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has issued dramatic threats against the Ahmadinejad visit. These particular warnings may not amount to much, but they’re a reminder that Sunni Salafists will mount a resistance to Iranian triumphalism in Lebanon. That is hardly a comforting thought for Lebanon, Israel, or the larger Middle East. Indeed, it’s a harbinger of how this confrontation will unfold, with Saudi-funded jihadists on one side, an increasingly powerful, Iranian-backed Hezbollah on the other, and Lebanese and Israeli civilians trapped in the middle.

The most significant aspect of this visit is that Iran and Lebanon feel free to stage it. It’s something the U.S. should have stopped. We shower aid of all kinds, including military, on Lebanon. We would have had the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – as well as France – in persuading Beirut not to do this. We have a clear and urgent interest in preventing Ahmadinejad’s destabilizing antics; this isn’t a meaningless seminar at Columbia U.; it’s a visit affirming the ascendancy of Iran and the Hezbollah terrorists over Lebanon’s political arrangements.

Under these circumstances, the Obama administration should have done better than emit an ineffectual diplomatic bleat at Beirut and then fully offset it with the caveat that “we respect that these are judgments for the Lebanese government to make.” The truth is, they’re not. Lebanon’s recognized government is not even sovereign over all its territory – it never has been – and Lebanese officials have good reason to fear assassination and make deals with outside actors. This is not a situation in which Lebanon should be allowed to make judgments that affect the entire region. Failing to look after U.S. interests in this matter imperils the whole Middle East.

The thesis of Max Boot’s post yesterday, on the possibility that a friendly grenade killed British aid worker Linda Norgrove, is well-taken. Hewing to a blindly narrow principle of fault-finding, as if the context of a tragedy doesn’t matter, is unworkable for sound judgment and policy. It produces kindergarten behavior: tearful demands for vengeance against whoever dealt the last slap or taunt, regardless of what the fray was about.

But absurdly narrow principles don’t stop with fault-finding. The U.S. is invoking a surreally absolute principle of “national sovereignty” this week in addressing Lebanon on the subject of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, for which the Iranian leader reportedly left Tehran this afternoon. This visit is the most freighted one the Middle East has seen in decades. It represents the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary seal being affixed publicly to Lebanon – an egregious display Iran has been wary of mounting until now.

Al-Qaeda is apparently clearer on the import of this visit than the U.S. State Department. An affiliate calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has issued dramatic threats against the Ahmadinejad visit. These particular warnings may not amount to much, but they’re a reminder that Sunni Salafists will mount a resistance to Iranian triumphalism in Lebanon. That is hardly a comforting thought for Lebanon, Israel, or the larger Middle East. Indeed, it’s a harbinger of how this confrontation will unfold, with Saudi-funded jihadists on one side, an increasingly powerful, Iranian-backed Hezbollah on the other, and Lebanese and Israeli civilians trapped in the middle.

The most significant aspect of this visit is that Iran and Lebanon feel free to stage it. It’s something the U.S. should have stopped. We shower aid of all kinds, including military, on Lebanon. We would have had the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – as well as France – in persuading Beirut not to do this. We have a clear and urgent interest in preventing Ahmadinejad’s destabilizing antics; this isn’t a meaningless seminar at Columbia U.; it’s a visit affirming the ascendancy of Iran and the Hezbollah terrorists over Lebanon’s political arrangements.

Under these circumstances, the Obama administration should have done better than emit an ineffectual diplomatic bleat at Beirut and then fully offset it with the caveat that “we respect that these are judgments for the Lebanese government to make.” The truth is, they’re not. Lebanon’s recognized government is not even sovereign over all its territory – it never has been – and Lebanese officials have good reason to fear assassination and make deals with outside actors. This is not a situation in which Lebanon should be allowed to make judgments that affect the entire region. Failing to look after U.S. interests in this matter imperils the whole Middle East.

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RE: Western Inaction on Lebanon

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

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The Solution Is in Damascus and Tehran

Adam Brodsky at the New York Post says that if Israel wants to kneecap Iran, it should take out Hezbollah in Lebanon. That would indeed go a long way toward rolling back Tehran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Hezbollah moonlights as a Syrian proxy militia, but it is first and foremost Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s army in Lebanon, effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Pasdaran.

It’s also the most resilient and capable terrorist army in the world and, for that very reason, difficult to root out conventionally. The Israel Defense Forces fought Hezbollah to a standstill between 1982 and 2000 and failed to destroy it during the Second Lebanon War in July and August of 2006. Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever after the 18-year counterinsurgency in 2000 and emerged stronger still from the 2006 war. After neutralizing the Lebanese government during another short war in the spring of 2008, it is now, like Israel itself, an undefeated heavyweight of the Levant.

Effective counterinsurgency of the type General David Petraeus waged in Iraq is impossible for Israel in Lebanon for three reasons. First, it takes a long time, years when applied correctly, and time is something Israel just doesn’t have. Second, the American counterinsurgency effort in Iraq would have failed if the insurgents hadn’t murdered and terrorized so many Iraqis while fighting Americans — something Hezbollah is most unlikely to do in the Shia regions of Lebanon where it is embedded. Third, anti-Israel sentiment is too broad and too deep in Lebanon for the IDF to recruit sufficient local assistance — especially after the abrupt collapse of its allies in the South Lebanon Army following the withdrawal in 2000.

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

Adam Brodsky at the New York Post says that if Israel wants to kneecap Iran, it should take out Hezbollah in Lebanon. That would indeed go a long way toward rolling back Tehran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Hezbollah moonlights as a Syrian proxy militia, but it is first and foremost Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s army in Lebanon, effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Pasdaran.

It’s also the most resilient and capable terrorist army in the world and, for that very reason, difficult to root out conventionally. The Israel Defense Forces fought Hezbollah to a standstill between 1982 and 2000 and failed to destroy it during the Second Lebanon War in July and August of 2006. Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever after the 18-year counterinsurgency in 2000 and emerged stronger still from the 2006 war. After neutralizing the Lebanese government during another short war in the spring of 2008, it is now, like Israel itself, an undefeated heavyweight of the Levant.

Effective counterinsurgency of the type General David Petraeus waged in Iraq is impossible for Israel in Lebanon for three reasons. First, it takes a long time, years when applied correctly, and time is something Israel just doesn’t have. Second, the American counterinsurgency effort in Iraq would have failed if the insurgents hadn’t murdered and terrorized so many Iraqis while fighting Americans — something Hezbollah is most unlikely to do in the Shia regions of Lebanon where it is embedded. Third, anti-Israel sentiment is too broad and too deep in Lebanon for the IDF to recruit sufficient local assistance — especially after the abrupt collapse of its allies in the South Lebanon Army following the withdrawal in 2000.

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

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Iran’s Hezbollah Allies Getting Ready for War

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

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RE: What the U.S. Should Do About the SCUDs

The U.S. government has confirmed the delivery of SCUD missiles by Syria to Hezbollah. Its response? A remarkably tough press release from a State Department spokesman, which reads as follows:

The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.  This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government. Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah. The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah. Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese Government.

We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region. Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.

This is certainly a step above what we usually hear from the Obami when it comes to aggression by their friends in the “Muslim World” – silence. It doesn’t exactly say what consequences there will be for violation of the UN Resolution 1701. But after all, there has already been such a violation. And who knows what we and Israel have agreed on. It would be nice if we’ve changed our mind about sending our ambassador to Damascus (should he ever be confirmed). And it would be even better if we actually mentioned Israel and its right of self-defense. But this is the first sign that reality has crept into Foggy Bottom and that some re-evaluation of our Syrian engagement policy is underway. Perhaps next we could go to the UN to get a declaration that Syria is in violation of 1701 and that states in the region are entitled to act in self-defense. Well, we can always hope.

The U.S. government has confirmed the delivery of SCUD missiles by Syria to Hezbollah. Its response? A remarkably tough press release from a State Department spokesman, which reads as follows:

The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.  This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government. Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah. The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah. Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese Government.

We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region. Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.

This is certainly a step above what we usually hear from the Obami when it comes to aggression by their friends in the “Muslim World” – silence. It doesn’t exactly say what consequences there will be for violation of the UN Resolution 1701. But after all, there has already been such a violation. And who knows what we and Israel have agreed on. It would be nice if we’ve changed our mind about sending our ambassador to Damascus (should he ever be confirmed). And it would be even better if we actually mentioned Israel and its right of self-defense. But this is the first sign that reality has crept into Foggy Bottom and that some re-evaluation of our Syrian engagement policy is underway. Perhaps next we could go to the UN to get a declaration that Syria is in violation of 1701 and that states in the region are entitled to act in self-defense. Well, we can always hope.

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Pragmatism?

Arguing for a more “pragmatic” foreign policy, Mohamad Bazzi chastises President Bush for conflating Al Qaeda with Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah and Hamas, he writes, “are political and military movements deeply embedded in their societies.” Thus, in his view, since the the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples respectively have continued to grant Hezbollah and Hamas more power, they are legitimate entities, representative of their constituencies:

At the heart of Bush’s fantasy is that Muslims would reject Islamist groups if they could choose their own political leaders in free and fair elections. But that argument was undercut in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the region. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have gained political power and strength in recent years, partly through the ballot box.

This, according to Bazzi, separates Hezbollah and Hamas from Al Qaeda. Whereas the latter deserves the President’s admonishment since it “is the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks,” “Hamas and Hezbollah are traditional Islamist and nationalist movements based in specific countries.”

In defense of Hamas, Bazzi argues that it has “succeeded in positioning itself as an alternative to the corrupt, inefficient and largely discredited Fatah leadership.” True, Hamas has been able to accomplish what Fatah was unable to do. Let us begin to count the ways. Hamas has

• “illegally detained and tortured” Palestinians in the West Bank

Maintained a “state of lawlessness

Murdered its citizens (to quote one Palestinian, “Even the Israelis do not do this.”)

Incidentally, Bazzi’s article comes mere days before the release of a study conducted by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights which found that (surprise!) Hamas is responsible for violating the human rights of thousands of Palestinians.

Hezbollah, too, has enjoyed extraordinary success. Most recently:

Using civilians as human shields during its 2006 war with Israel

Stifles free speech, to the point that “few Lebanese dare to criticize it openly

• And continuously undermines the political control of the standing Lebanese government.

Bazzi’s suggestion that America’s policy should strictly favor the spread of pure democracy (as in, whatever the majority says, goes, be it Hezbollah or Hamas) is either alarmingly wrongheaded or frighteningly disingenuous. A key point of American democracy is its recognition of inherent rights belonging to all human beings. Bazzi’s position, however, is that Muslims are different, at once above and below the law. And since they are different, we can sit back and allow some Muslims to trample the human rights of other Muslims without consequence. Pragmatism surely has a place in America’s foreign policy–but not at that price.

Arguing for a more “pragmatic” foreign policy, Mohamad Bazzi chastises President Bush for conflating Al Qaeda with Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah and Hamas, he writes, “are political and military movements deeply embedded in their societies.” Thus, in his view, since the the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples respectively have continued to grant Hezbollah and Hamas more power, they are legitimate entities, representative of their constituencies:

At the heart of Bush’s fantasy is that Muslims would reject Islamist groups if they could choose their own political leaders in free and fair elections. But that argument was undercut in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, two of the most liberal and diverse societies in the region. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have gained political power and strength in recent years, partly through the ballot box.

This, according to Bazzi, separates Hezbollah and Hamas from Al Qaeda. Whereas the latter deserves the President’s admonishment since it “is the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks,” “Hamas and Hezbollah are traditional Islamist and nationalist movements based in specific countries.”

In defense of Hamas, Bazzi argues that it has “succeeded in positioning itself as an alternative to the corrupt, inefficient and largely discredited Fatah leadership.” True, Hamas has been able to accomplish what Fatah was unable to do. Let us begin to count the ways. Hamas has

• “illegally detained and tortured” Palestinians in the West Bank

Maintained a “state of lawlessness

Murdered its citizens (to quote one Palestinian, “Even the Israelis do not do this.”)

Incidentally, Bazzi’s article comes mere days before the release of a study conducted by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights which found that (surprise!) Hamas is responsible for violating the human rights of thousands of Palestinians.

Hezbollah, too, has enjoyed extraordinary success. Most recently:

Using civilians as human shields during its 2006 war with Israel

Stifles free speech, to the point that “few Lebanese dare to criticize it openly

• And continuously undermines the political control of the standing Lebanese government.

Bazzi’s suggestion that America’s policy should strictly favor the spread of pure democracy (as in, whatever the majority says, goes, be it Hezbollah or Hamas) is either alarmingly wrongheaded or frighteningly disingenuous. A key point of American democracy is its recognition of inherent rights belonging to all human beings. Bazzi’s position, however, is that Muslims are different, at once above and below the law. And since they are different, we can sit back and allow some Muslims to trample the human rights of other Muslims without consequence. Pragmatism surely has a place in America’s foreign policy–but not at that price.

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Hezbollah’s Victory

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14′s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14′s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

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Dignity Promotion for Lebanon

David Brooks must have noticed, as I did, Barack Obama’s bizarre statement on the Lebanon crisis. So he called Obama on the phone to find out if he really meant what he said:

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”

Brooks might not have noticed, but Obama just doubled-down on the message of his initial Lebanon statement. Samantha Power may no longer be with the campaign, but Obama articulated precisely her prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a “disaffected” (Obama’s word) people.

There are several assumptions at work here: that Hezbollah is popular among the Lebanese Shia because of its provision of material benefits, like medical clinics, instead of a compelling ideological message; that Hezbollah will peacefully acquiesce to western social-services projects in Lebanon; that the Shia will be inspired by promises to improve their standard of living, rather than Hezbollah’s promise of religious glory and political dominance; that Hezbollah is a manifestation of domestic Lebanese conditions, and can thus be addressed by solving domestic Lebanese problems. None of these premises comes close to being true.

Obama’s mention of Hamas was appropriate, but not in the way he thinks it was. Hamas slaughters Israelis on behalf of the “legitimate claims” and “grievances” of a group of people whose plight has rarely in history been more thoroughly salved with social services. The West Bank and Gaza are awash in UN- and EU-funded schools, medical clinics, and sinecure jobs programs. Even the trash in the West Bank is collected by large white garbage trucks with the letters “UN” stenciled on the sides. If social services “peel support away” from groups like Hezbollah, as Obama insists, why has Islamic radicalism become more and more popular in the Palestinian territories precisely while outside social services have gotten ever more expansive?

Make no mistake: Obama is not backing down from his promise of a dignity-promotion foreign policy. In its first act, he will insist on recognizing the legitimacy of the “grievances” of Iran’s proxy terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The message is clear: terrorism and savagery will win an audience with the American president. Please pardon me for calling this appeasement.

David Brooks must have noticed, as I did, Barack Obama’s bizarre statement on the Lebanon crisis. So he called Obama on the phone to find out if he really meant what he said:

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”

Brooks might not have noticed, but Obama just doubled-down on the message of his initial Lebanon statement. Samantha Power may no longer be with the campaign, but Obama articulated precisely her prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a “disaffected” (Obama’s word) people.

There are several assumptions at work here: that Hezbollah is popular among the Lebanese Shia because of its provision of material benefits, like medical clinics, instead of a compelling ideological message; that Hezbollah will peacefully acquiesce to western social-services projects in Lebanon; that the Shia will be inspired by promises to improve their standard of living, rather than Hezbollah’s promise of religious glory and political dominance; that Hezbollah is a manifestation of domestic Lebanese conditions, and can thus be addressed by solving domestic Lebanese problems. None of these premises comes close to being true.

Obama’s mention of Hamas was appropriate, but not in the way he thinks it was. Hamas slaughters Israelis on behalf of the “legitimate claims” and “grievances” of a group of people whose plight has rarely in history been more thoroughly salved with social services. The West Bank and Gaza are awash in UN- and EU-funded schools, medical clinics, and sinecure jobs programs. Even the trash in the West Bank is collected by large white garbage trucks with the letters “UN” stenciled on the sides. If social services “peel support away” from groups like Hezbollah, as Obama insists, why has Islamic radicalism become more and more popular in the Palestinian territories precisely while outside social services have gotten ever more expansive?

Make no mistake: Obama is not backing down from his promise of a dignity-promotion foreign policy. In its first act, he will insist on recognizing the legitimacy of the “grievances” of Iran’s proxy terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The message is clear: terrorism and savagery will win an audience with the American president. Please pardon me for calling this appeasement.

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What Do We Do Now?

Back in February, the Pentagon announced that it had moved the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, and a number of other ships to the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Lebanon.

It sends a “signal that we’re engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that’s a very important part of the world.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the same time, an anonymous Bush administration official told CNN the deployment demonstrates that “the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved.”

Now that things are falling apart in Lebanon, what are these ships going to do?

Even without the American statements and naval deployment, a successful effort by the Iranian-backed Hizballah to seize control of large swaths of Beirut and impose its will on the Lebanese government would be a setback of the first rank: for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the broader Middle East. The disaster for us is compounded by the fact that we have put our prestige on the line.

Having failed to respond to Iranian aggression in Iraq in so many  instances (even as we loudly denounce it), and having failed to check Iran’s nuclear-weapons program (even as we loudly denounce it, too), the ayatollahs are clearly feeling emboldened. They are now making their move in Lebanon. What are our ships going to do? Maintain a symbolic presence while Lebanon burns? The bill for our fecklessness is coming due.

Back in February, the Pentagon announced that it had moved the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, and a number of other ships to the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Lebanon.

It sends a “signal that we’re engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that’s a very important part of the world.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the same time, an anonymous Bush administration official told CNN the deployment demonstrates that “the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved.”

Now that things are falling apart in Lebanon, what are these ships going to do?

Even without the American statements and naval deployment, a successful effort by the Iranian-backed Hizballah to seize control of large swaths of Beirut and impose its will on the Lebanese government would be a setback of the first rank: for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the broader Middle East. The disaster for us is compounded by the fact that we have put our prestige on the line.

Having failed to respond to Iranian aggression in Iraq in so many  instances (even as we loudly denounce it), and having failed to check Iran’s nuclear-weapons program (even as we loudly denounce it, too), the ayatollahs are clearly feeling emboldened. They are now making their move in Lebanon. What are our ships going to do? Maintain a symbolic presence while Lebanon burns? The bill for our fecklessness is coming due.

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Beirut on the Brink

Lebanon is in turmoil again today, but this time the turmoil is clearer than it has been in the past. As things stand right now, members of Hezbollah are thugging their way through the streets of Beirut, setting fires, fighting, and dumping piles of dirt and trash in the roads in order to shut down the city. Most importantly, Hezbollah has closed the highway that connects Beirut to Lebanon’s major airport.

All of this is in response to a few brave and necessary actions recently taken by the Lebanese government. The cabinet voted to dismiss the Beirut airport security chief, a Hezbollah loyalist who allowed the group to set up a video surveillance system to monitor the airport. The government also ordered a judiciary probe of the independent telecommunications network that Hezbollah has been building, with Iranian assistance, in recent months.

So Hezbollah has responded by doing what it does best: sowing chaos and violence, escalating its confrontation with the Siniora government, and hoping that when the dust settles Siniora is weakened (or even removed from power) and Hezbollah is on stronger ground.

The flashpoint to watch is the airport road. Lebanon, like Israel, has only one major airport (although there is talk of quickly turning a smaller airport in the north into a functioning international hub), and its closure is debilitating and unacceptable. The Lebanese government faces the grave and immediate question of whether to capitulate to Hezbollah or to send troops to open the road, which Hezbollah has been covering with truckloads of landfill. Siniora says that his government will not back down; Hezbollah says that it now considers the Lebanese army as having “joined the enemy,” and might build a tent city on the airport road, just as it has done in downtown Beirut.

Hezbollah, though, is isolated in Lebanon as never before. In its latest tantrum, it operates without the sectarian cover of its erstwhile Christian ally, Michel Aoun; the fight is now more clearly than ever one of Hezbollah vs. Lebanon, rather than one of some Lebanese groups vs. some other Lebanese groups. This is bad for Hezbollah, because it puts them in a corner in terms of political tactics — there will be no alliance-shuffling and dealmaking in the offing, always the hallmarks of Lebanese crisis-management — and because it puts Nasrallah in a win/lose corner: either he forces the government to capitulate, or he is seen as having been defeated.

And Hezbollah’s military options against the Lebanese government aren’t clear, given that Hezbollah has organized itself to fight a rocket and guerrilla war against Israel, not street battles in Beirut. If Hezbollah forces an armed conflict, its fealty to Iran and fundamental hostility to Lebanon will be laid bare as never before. Stay tuned.

Lebanon is in turmoil again today, but this time the turmoil is clearer than it has been in the past. As things stand right now, members of Hezbollah are thugging their way through the streets of Beirut, setting fires, fighting, and dumping piles of dirt and trash in the roads in order to shut down the city. Most importantly, Hezbollah has closed the highway that connects Beirut to Lebanon’s major airport.

All of this is in response to a few brave and necessary actions recently taken by the Lebanese government. The cabinet voted to dismiss the Beirut airport security chief, a Hezbollah loyalist who allowed the group to set up a video surveillance system to monitor the airport. The government also ordered a judiciary probe of the independent telecommunications network that Hezbollah has been building, with Iranian assistance, in recent months.

So Hezbollah has responded by doing what it does best: sowing chaos and violence, escalating its confrontation with the Siniora government, and hoping that when the dust settles Siniora is weakened (or even removed from power) and Hezbollah is on stronger ground.

The flashpoint to watch is the airport road. Lebanon, like Israel, has only one major airport (although there is talk of quickly turning a smaller airport in the north into a functioning international hub), and its closure is debilitating and unacceptable. The Lebanese government faces the grave and immediate question of whether to capitulate to Hezbollah or to send troops to open the road, which Hezbollah has been covering with truckloads of landfill. Siniora says that his government will not back down; Hezbollah says that it now considers the Lebanese army as having “joined the enemy,” and might build a tent city on the airport road, just as it has done in downtown Beirut.

Hezbollah, though, is isolated in Lebanon as never before. In its latest tantrum, it operates without the sectarian cover of its erstwhile Christian ally, Michel Aoun; the fight is now more clearly than ever one of Hezbollah vs. Lebanon, rather than one of some Lebanese groups vs. some other Lebanese groups. This is bad for Hezbollah, because it puts them in a corner in terms of political tactics — there will be no alliance-shuffling and dealmaking in the offing, always the hallmarks of Lebanese crisis-management — and because it puts Nasrallah in a win/lose corner: either he forces the government to capitulate, or he is seen as having been defeated.

And Hezbollah’s military options against the Lebanese government aren’t clear, given that Hezbollah has organized itself to fight a rocket and guerrilla war against Israel, not street battles in Beirut. If Hezbollah forces an armed conflict, its fealty to Iran and fundamental hostility to Lebanon will be laid bare as never before. Stay tuned.

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A Peace Treaty At Risk

Lee Smith thinks that part of what Hamas and its patrons in Damascus and Tehran have been working toward is the scuttling of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which remains one of the cornerstones of the American security architecture of the Middle East. Smith writes:

Another way to understand the Gaza breach is as part of Syria and Iran’s war against the regional order imposed by Washington. To be sure, Egypt is scared of Iran and even stands with Washington in supporting the Lebanese government against Hezbollah and against Iranian and Syrian meddling, but having to fight Tehran and Damascus openly on Egyptian soil is something else entirely, especially as Egypt, like many Sunni states around the region, suspects that the Bush administration has gone soft on Iran.

Think about it this way: What if Hamas ends up being able to stage attacks on Israel from the Sinai? This would be brilliant on Hamas’ part, because Israel would be put in the position of having to choose between acquiescing to the opening of a new front against it, or striking back at Hamas on Egyptian soil.

Israel’s dilemma would only be matched by Mubarak’s: allow Hamas, as Lee puts it, to effect the Lebanonization of the Sinai by extending its terror mini-state there, or move in and crush the Hamas presence and be seen by the Arab world, and especially by his own people, killing brother Arabs on behalf of the Jews. A more serious betrayal hardly exists in the Middle East.

These calculations surely have a lot to do with the recent firming up of Egypt’s dedication to ensuring that another breach does not happen.

Lee Smith thinks that part of what Hamas and its patrons in Damascus and Tehran have been working toward is the scuttling of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which remains one of the cornerstones of the American security architecture of the Middle East. Smith writes:

Another way to understand the Gaza breach is as part of Syria and Iran’s war against the regional order imposed by Washington. To be sure, Egypt is scared of Iran and even stands with Washington in supporting the Lebanese government against Hezbollah and against Iranian and Syrian meddling, but having to fight Tehran and Damascus openly on Egyptian soil is something else entirely, especially as Egypt, like many Sunni states around the region, suspects that the Bush administration has gone soft on Iran.

Think about it this way: What if Hamas ends up being able to stage attacks on Israel from the Sinai? This would be brilliant on Hamas’ part, because Israel would be put in the position of having to choose between acquiescing to the opening of a new front against it, or striking back at Hamas on Egyptian soil.

Israel’s dilemma would only be matched by Mubarak’s: allow Hamas, as Lee puts it, to effect the Lebanonization of the Sinai by extending its terror mini-state there, or move in and crush the Hamas presence and be seen by the Arab world, and especially by his own people, killing brother Arabs on behalf of the Jews. A more serious betrayal hardly exists in the Middle East.

These calculations surely have a lot to do with the recent firming up of Egypt’s dedication to ensuring that another breach does not happen.

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Bush Has Had It With Assad

At yesterday’s year-end White House press conference, President Bush let his feelings about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be known. BBC News reports:

“My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House.

“The reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hizballah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon.”

For that, the President gets a B+. He left out Syria’s active interest in conspiring with Iran on WMD. The Assad regime constitutes the full spectrum of Middle East threats: Baathist tyranny, Sunni terrorism, Shia terrorism, Iraq sabotage, and coddling of Iran.

Additionally, the Syrian regime exercises suzerainty by assassination in Lebanon. Lebanese statesmen actually live in their offices for fear of Syrian bombs. The Lebanese government is in near-literal paralysis. George Bush’s pronouncement is a welcome return to common sense. While Assad took a state hostage before the eyes of the world, Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought it only right to pay a visit to Syria’s President “with the assurance that we came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suffered a similar lapse in reaching out to Syria during peace talks in Annapolis.

In early January, President Bush is taking a diplomatic tour of the region. He’ll visit a handful of countries—none of them Syria. One crucial benefit of progress in Iraq is that it allows the U.S. to exercise a credibly muscular foreign policy. In so doing, we can embolden Syrian and Lebanese reformers (such as the March 14 coalition), who must have wept while Nancy Pelosi flattered their tormentor.

At yesterday’s year-end White House press conference, President Bush let his feelings about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be known. BBC News reports:

“My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House.

“The reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hizballah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon.”

For that, the President gets a B+. He left out Syria’s active interest in conspiring with Iran on WMD. The Assad regime constitutes the full spectrum of Middle East threats: Baathist tyranny, Sunni terrorism, Shia terrorism, Iraq sabotage, and coddling of Iran.

Additionally, the Syrian regime exercises suzerainty by assassination in Lebanon. Lebanese statesmen actually live in their offices for fear of Syrian bombs. The Lebanese government is in near-literal paralysis. George Bush’s pronouncement is a welcome return to common sense. While Assad took a state hostage before the eyes of the world, Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought it only right to pay a visit to Syria’s President “with the assurance that we came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suffered a similar lapse in reaching out to Syria during peace talks in Annapolis.

In early January, President Bush is taking a diplomatic tour of the region. He’ll visit a handful of countries—none of them Syria. One crucial benefit of progress in Iraq is that it allows the U.S. to exercise a credibly muscular foreign policy. In so doing, we can embolden Syrian and Lebanese reformers (such as the March 14 coalition), who must have wept while Nancy Pelosi flattered their tormentor.

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