Hezbollah Remains a Threat to Both Israel and Lebanon
Last Friday the Times of London published a rather disturbing story about the transfer of weapons from Syria (possibly originating in Iran) to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. According to this article, Hezbollah is now thought to have in excess of “… 40,000 rockets and missiles, ranging from short-range Katyushas to medium-range M600 missiles and the Soviet-era Scud ballistic missile, which is capable of hitting most big population centers in Israel.” Such a prospect is deeply unnerving, and should be a significant cause for concern among all who have an interest in the Middle East. This is a move which not only threatens the short-term balance of security between Israel and Lebanon, but also undermines any efforts at making peace between Israel and Syria, which are still technically at war with one another. Furthermore, it is not only Israeli leaders, but American and Egyptian officials who should be concerned about such a move as well. For the Obama administration, a rearmed and rejuvenated Hezbollah could create a serious distraction for Israel that might derail proximity talks. In Egypt, where the government is constantly concerned about the internal threat of Islamic extremism, a rearmed Hezbollah sends a very dangerous message to groups like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
In a piece entitled “The Hezbollah Problem,” in the current issue of the journal “Democracy,” authors Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson explore ways that the United States can counter growing Iranian power in the Middle East by addressing the problem of dealing with one of Hezbollah, which Iran has used as a proxy. In this piece they make the case that the West needs to create a plan to incentivize Hezbollah, which means “… orchestrating an intensive Western re-engagement in Lebanon that induces Hezbollah to reassess its priorities and ultimately subordinate its objective of extinguishing the state of Israel to that of competing for political primacy in Lebanon. Personally, I am all for reducing the sense of urgency Hezbollah feels to destroy Israel, but I’m not sure dangling a carrot in front of them which is in fact attached to a very large stick which they can then wield at will once in power, is such a great idea. Although I am uneasy with the initial premise of this article, I do think that given the threat that Hezbollah clearly poses to both Israeli security and the government of Lebanon that this article is worth reading. I say this because it offers some insight into how Hezbollah fits into the broader context of Lebanese and regional politics, which is useful information to have when thinking about how these arms transfers may affect the balance of power in the region.
One important area where I disagree with Simon and Stevenson is in their assertion that the rhetorical threats against Israel made by Hezbollah are not necessarily genuine, and may instead reflect a need to be “politically correct” within the Arab political sphere. This seems highly unlikely – Hezbollah has proven time and again that they are intent on destroying Israel, and reports in the Times of London and the New York Times about arms transfers to the group certainly seem to bear this out. Furthermore, their suggestion that a more capable UN force, equipped with access to better Israeli and US technical surveillance assets could prevent rearming of Hezbollah, comes at too late a point, as multiple reliable news sources have already reported that this re-arming process has been well underway for some time. Another point on which I disagree strongly with the authors is when they write of the disputed Shebaa Farms area in northern Israel that “The Israeli occupation has provided Hezbollah with a pretext for attacking the IDF and Syria with an excuse for deferring border negotiations with Lebanon.” I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that the dispute over this one particular area is the driving force behind Hezbollah’s repeated provocation of armed confrontations with Israel. Their suggestion that the United States and other western powers ought to be willing to at least have some kind of dialogue with Hezbollah, in order to begin to nudge them toward demilitarization, which will then decrease the influence of Iran in the region by extension, is not an idea with which I completely disagree, but given the realities of the situation on the ground, and the degree to which Hezbollah is firmly in control of southern Lebanon, I have to admit I have a very hard time seeing how any diplomatic overture will convince them to lay down their arms. No matter how high a level such an overture may come from, it seems unlikely that an effort of this sort can succeed in convincing the terrorist organization to do anything that will weaken what appears to be a fairly strong military and political position within Lebanon.
In my mind, a re-armed Hezbollah is possibly an important factor in the proximity talks. If nothing else, it sends a stark reminder to both Israel and the rest of the world that although we may not like it, terrorist groups, with the support of various sovereign states, have the power to influence the course of events in the region. Even if Israel is able to reach a peace agreement with President Abbas in the West Bank, and Hamas could somehow be convinced to fall in line with such an agreement, the threat that remains from Syria, Iran and Hezbollah is still all too real. In the end, I like the optimistic tone of Simon and Stevenson, and I know that realistically there may come a time when groups like Hezbollah may have to be offered a seat at the negotiating table, but given the fact that Hezbollah has continued to embrace violence as their main mode of political expression, that day seems awfully far off.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
The New Vilna Review
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