Finishing off Hezbollah
In January 2002, I wrote that following the battle in Afghanistan (and before the war in Iraq) the next target in the war on terror should be Lebanon. The case for destroying Hizballah four years ago is the same as it is today, namely, that it creates instability in the region and threatens our interests. If the group had been eliminated at that time, the current conflict would never have happened.
Besides the broader strategic goals of increasing stability, defeating Islamic fundamentalism and weakening the influence of Iran and Syria, the United States also had another reason to take on Hizballah, that is, to eliminate a terrorist group that had kidnaped and murdered hundreds of Americans. For those who may have forgotten, here is a partial list of Hizballah’s acts of war against the United States:
Most of these attacks were some time ago, so the U.S. is long overdue in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
At the time, I believed the United States needed to use all its diplomatic and economic leverage to pressure Syria to withdraw its troops and then give the Lebanese government an ultimatum: disarm Hizballah or the U.S. would do it for them. The task was complicated by the support for Hizballah in the Arab world, where it was considered a resistance movement rather than a terrorist organization.
Conditions have changed dramatically, however, and the United States is in a much better position to achieve the goal of eliminating Hizballah. First, the Syrians were forced to leave Lebanon because of international pressure. Second, Syria is the only Arab country that now supports Hizballah. Third, and most important, most Lebanese now want to be rid of Hizballah.
Hizballah has created a state within the state and prevents the government from exercising authority over its own territory. Hizballah’s goal of creating an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in Lebanon conflicts with the population’s desire for a democratic government that protects the rights of the different religious factions in the country. The public also knows that it would have nothing to fear from Israel if Hizballah were not constantly provoking the Israelis by attacking soldiers and civilians across the border.
Now that Israel has taken military action, the United States does not have to mount an Afghan-type operation to root out Hizballah; we need only give Israel the time to do the job for us. In addition to supporting Israel, the United States should rally the international community to use sanctions and any other measures necessary to prevent Syria and Iran from providing any funding or weapons to Hizballah.
If Israel is allowed to destroy Hizballah, the next step will be to provide an international force or other support to the Lebanese army to allow it to deploy along the border with Israel. The captured Israeli soldiers must also be released unharmed.
The defeat of Hizballah will be a major victory for Israel, the United States, and democracy. For the first time in decades, the Lebanese will be free to determine their own fate. Iran will be handed a significant setback in its effort to spread radical Islam, terrorize its enemies and destabilize the region. Since Israel has never had any territorial ambitions in Lebanon or any conflict with the Lebanese people, the potential for negotiating a peace agreement would also be dramatically increased.
This could be a decisive moment in Middle East history, but the outcome depends on doing the job that we failed to do in 2002. Pressure is already being put on Israel and the United States to allow Hizballah to remain in place with its weapons intact. We’re told that America must launch a diplomatic initiative, which is clearly aimed at stopping Israel and not disarming Hizballah. The President must resist the pressure.
Hizballah has made no secret of its objective to destroy Israel. This is nonnegotiable. Similarly, the destruction of Hizballah should be nonnegotiable.