“Getting Hezbollah to Behave,” by Nicholas Noe

Getting Hezbollah to Behave
New York Times, Op-ed
Beirut, Lebanon, July 21, 2007

ONE year after Israel’s devastating 34-day war with Hezbollah, it seems as though both sides are readying themselves for another round. Recent statements by American and Israeli officials, as well as the United Nations, assert that Hezbollah has largely re-equipped and refortified, compliments of Syria and Iran. On the other side of the border, the news media report that the Israeli Defense Force has done the same, with, of course, the help of American military aid.

Given what may be a regional movement toward conflict, the United States and Israel would do well to pause and take stock of the nonviolent alternatives that Hezbollah itself says would lead it to shun military action. Indeed, the best way to contain Hezbollah may be to give it some of what it says it wants.

Since its official founding in 1985, Hezbollah has seen its argument, not to mention its capacity, for violence repeatedly buoyed by what the group calls the “open wars” waged by Israel against it (and invariably against the rest of Lebanon, too) in 1993, 1996 and again in 2006.

In contrast, when the confrontational approach has receded — most notably after Israel ended its 22-year occupation of Lebanon in 2000 — Hezbollah’s ability and desire to use violence receded as well.

And therein lies an alternative strategy available to Israel and the United States: gradually and peacefully containing Hezbollah violence by undermining public support for resistance operations.

For without widespread public support from Lebanese of all religious persuasions, Muslim and Christian alike — especially now that the Syrian enforcers have ostensibly left Lebanon — violent operations would not only be extremely difficult, Hezbollah leaders acknowledge, but also domestically hazardous for their Shiite base.

This is precisely the reason that Hezbollah, since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, has reduced its overt military presence and taken part in Lebanese politics in ways that it once would have avoided as corrupting or unnecessary, including a cabinet portfolio in 2005 and a surprisingly sturdy alliance in 2006 with the main Christian leader, Gen. Michel Aoun. This may be also why Hezbollah has been so uncharacteristically quiet in the confrontation between the Lebanese Army, which is enjoying a surge of public support at the moment, and Qaeda-inspired militants at the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al Bared in northern Lebanon.

Undermine the rationale for violence directed at Israel — a rationale which, like it or not, is accepted by a great many Lebanese — and you have gone a long way toward reducing Hezbollah’s ability to act violently both along the border and even farther afield (that is if the American assertions of Hezbollah involvement in Iraq are to be believed).

In the meantime, you will have also pushed Hezbollah further into the muck of “normal” Lebanese politicking — an unflattering arena in which the Party of God is already uncharacteristically flip-flopping a- round, hurling accusations of “collaboration” at one moment while at the next suggesting the formation of a “national unity” government with some of those same “collaborators.”

For this oblique form of containment to work, however, the United States must first address what Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has long termed the “four bleeding wounds” that engender public support for his party’s use of violence against Israel.

These are the handing over of maps of the land mines the Israelis left in South Lebanon during the occupation; the return of all Lebanese prisoners; an end to Israeli overflights of Lebanon (which are arguably unnecessary in any case); and, finally, Israel’s relinquishing of the disputed Shebaa Farms area, which, according to a report last week in the Israeli daily Haaretz, the United Nations may declare as Lebanese by the end of the month.

As Mr. Nasrallah put it shortly after the last successful prisoner exchange with Israel in 2004, “These fools do not learn from their past mistakes: when they withdrew from Lebanon, they continued to occupy the Shebaa Farms and kept our brothers in custody.” By doing that, Mr. Nasrallah said of the Israelis, “they opened the door for us.”

Of course, one could argue that even if these “bleeding wounds” were removed, Hezbollah would simply invent other excuses to justify attacks. That’s certainly plausible, given that the Party of God views “resistance” as a fundamental principle, but the point is that these new excuses would undoubtedly be viewed as such: as false choices presented by one party bent on accomplishing its own narrow, even non-Lebanese interests.

And that possibility is one that would only further restrict Hezbollah’s actions, just as it finds itself already restricted by its ever-expanding web of political alliances.

By heeding Mr. Nasrallah’s advice and removing the “bleeding wounds,” the United States and its allies in Europe could then help to unleash exactly the kind of broad-based political, economic and military reform that would further convince Hezbollah and its supporters that the use of violence has become both unnecessary and, ultimately, counterproductive.

In the process, Israel and the United States too might also finally begin to learn some of the lessons of their past and present mistakes in Lebanon.

Nicholas Noe, a founder and the editor in chief of Mideastwire.com, is the editor of the forthcoming “Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.”

Comments (7)

Honest Patriot said:

Yes, yes, and yes. Why don’t the US and Israel just do this? This is not appeasement,this is addressing legitimate demands of a group made up of native Lebanese. As much as anyone is suspicious of Hezbollah, it is utterly stupid and conspiratorial and destructive NOT to yield to these righteous demands and see through whether Hezbollah, or at least those in this party who are genuine patriots, would then fall in line within a purely political and democratic system.
Enough already with Israel’s intransigence and the U.S. wanting to humiliate everyone into a corner by claiming the ulitmate righteousness. Give the Lebanese a real chance, not just by paying lip service. Prime Minister Siniora is the first to back such demands, as will all the Lebanese unanimously. Only then, should Hezbollah try to find new excuses to perpetuate extremist armed struggle, will all (or the greatest majority) of Lebanese unite to effectively block such actions. — Just Do It !!!

and, preempting any opinion to the contrary, just don’t give me this reasoning that appeasement will be just as effective as it was for Hitler. Hezbollah is not the party that sought to wipe Jews off the map. While one may question the goals of its leadership, one can only admire the high educational standard of this leadership, the eloquence of their rhetoric, and the discipline and sacrifice of its troops. Such competence is bound to fall in line with civilized goals within an open Lebanese society once the reasons/excuses for its extremism are taken away.
— Just Do It !!

July 22nd, 2007, 1:02 am


t_desco said:

“Why don’t the US and Israel just do this? ”

This is why:

Seymour Hersh: “I know something about what Cheney thinks, and that is in terms of having some people with firsthand access. And Cheney does believe that — the core belief of Cheney is that Iran is going to get a bomb, no matter what the intelligence is. As you know, there’s not much intelligence supporting the fact that it has a bomb. Iran’s going to get a bomb, and once it gets a bomb, its agent, its brown shirt — and that’s the phrase they use at least once or twice inside the White House — its brown shirts will be Hezbollah. And they have a capacity in America. They have underground facilities, cells here, and when Iran gets the bomb, they will give it to Hezbollah to distribute it, and Washington and New York will be vulnerable. In other words, Cheney sees what’s going on now as a threat to the United States directly.”
(Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh: US Indirectly Funding Al-Qaeda Linked Sunni Groups in Move to Counter Iran, Democracy Now!, February 28th, 2007)

Also reflected in the latest NIE:

“We assess Lebanese Hizballah, which has conducted anti-US attacks outside the United States in the past, may be more likely to consider attacking the Homeland over the next three years if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran.”

Interesting Nasrallah interview (though the headline is too optimistic):

Hezbollah, abierto a la política: Nasrallah
“Podríamos reconocer a Israel si la mayoría de palestinos lo hace”, dice el líder de la agrupación

“Si Hamas reconoce un día oficialmente a Israel -le preguntamos a Hassan Nasrallah-, ¿lo reconocerán ustedes?”

“No necesariamente. Eso no me obligaría a hacerlo. Pero no tengo que decidir en lugar de los palestinos, no les digo ‘ustedes tienen que expulsarlos, matarlos, tirarlos al mar’. Sencillamente digo que debemos devolver su bien a los palestinos… Pero, pase lo que pase respetaremos la elección y la voluntad del pueblo palestino, cualquier que sea esa elección y esa voluntad.”

Tampoco el argumento según el cual el Partido de Dios quiere imponer una república islámica inspirada en el modelo iraní cunde en la sociedad libanesa. …

Hassan Nasrallah nos confía por qué su partido abandonó su proyecto inicial: “Si la inmensa mayoría de los libaneses fuera musulmana hubiéramos, sin duda, obrado en favor de una república islámica… Pero dado el pluralismo y la diversidad comunitaria y religiosa de Líbano, y dado que hay aquí también musulmanes que no desean un Estado islámico, es perfectamente normal que preconicemos otra vía, la de una república popular emanada de elecciones, basada en la justicia y la igualdad, que son valores del islam.”
(La Jornada, 13 de julio de 2007)

In short:

– Hizbullah would repect the will of the Palestinian people if they decide to recognize Israel
– no Islamic State in Lebanon

The interview is probably also part of Jean-François Boyer’s and Alain Gresh’s documentary, Le mystère Hezbollah (France 5).

July 22nd, 2007, 6:31 pm


other-way said:

This is right on. Nasrallah has claimed that Hizbullah would disarm if a referendum indicated that half of all Lebanese (not just Shiites) wanted it to do so. Hizbullah is dependent on its ever-broadening social base- begin eliminating the primary source of their popularity (which is a combination of insecurity and victimhood) and Hizbullah will be forced to find legitimacy within Lebanese politics.

July 23rd, 2007, 5:27 pm


John R. Peacher said:

Syria and Iran and the Islamist terrorist organizations, the PA included do not know how to fight according to civilized principles. Hiding behind school buildings, places of worship, hospitals and civilian populations, they perform their dance of death and destruction. The classification of militants or fighters would more correctly be cowards with a thirst for the blood of innocents. God Himself will fight for Israel when it becomes necessary. All Syria, Iran and other Islamist are doing is revealing thier true intent murder, bloodshed, and mayham. The blood of innocents cries our from the earth and the day of judgement will fall swiftly upon all organizations and nations that gather like buzzards to destroy the Land God has given to His people, the Jews. Those who fight Israel fight against the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

John R. Peacher 7/24/2007 2:49 PM

July 24th, 2007, 12:52 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Those who fight Israel fight against the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

And the world is 6523 years old …

By the way John R. Peacher was the Jewish God on holiday during those 2000 years and Holocaust. Did God command the Irgun terrorists to dress as Arabs when they exploded the King David hotel?

July 24th, 2007, 3:43 pm


ausamaa said:

John R. Peacher, said: “Syria and Iran and the Islamist terrorist organizations, the PA included do not know how to fight according to civilized principles”

You are right. They should learn to fight according to CIVILIZED PRINCIPLES. That is the least one should expect from them. I am sure they will appreciate it if you can put in a good word for them with Caterpillar and McDonnell Douglas so they can send them some heavy duty earth-moving equipment, a few F-18’s and a couple of thouasnds of Cluster Bombs similar to those used regularly by “civilized and US-subsidised” Israel, so that all players in this dirty Middle East can adhere to the same rules of game and fight equally according to the civilized pinciples you seem to favore.

I think the Creator of Heaven and Earth would second the above idea as he is the ultimate Fair and Just referee.

July 24th, 2007, 5:09 pm


ausamaa said:

“Nasrallah has claimed that Hizbullah would disarm if a referendum indicated that half of all Lebanese (not just Shiites) wanted it to do so”

Sounds like a more DEMOCRATIC and POPULAR approach than is practiced by Dubbya whose approval ratings are dipping endlessly ( what are they today? hight twenties?), but still insists on doing what he wants to do regardless of what the American People want.

July 24th, 2007, 5:13 pm


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