March 6, 2005

JUST ANOTHER POLITICAL PARTY:

Stark choice for militant Hizbullah (Nicholas Blanford, 3/07/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

The choices facing the powerful organization are stark. If it chooses to adapt to the new realities in Lebanon, it is likely to face the isolation and eventual dismantling of its military wing, the Islamic Resistance, which drove Israeli occupation forces from south Lebanon in May 2000 and is now deployed along Israel's northern border. The Islamic Resistance has about 300-400 full-time guerrilla fighters and several thousand reservists.

Although Hizbullah has an extensive social-welfare network and an important presence in the Lebanese parliament, the Islamic Resistance is its beating heart. Dissolution risks turning Hizbullah into just another - albeit respected - party jostling for influence in a fractious political arena.

But if Hizbullah continues to defend Syrian interests in Lebanon and insists on retaining the Islamic Resistance, it could find itself on a collision course with a future Lebanese government, and risk alienating its vital support among the Shiite community.

"Hizbullah is at a crossroads," says a European diplomat here. "The leadership is taking it day by day, but I hope Hizbullah chooses the democratic option. There is no need to bear arms anymore."


Like Hamas, their armed days are over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2005 8:47 PM
Comments

Yes, but do they know it?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 7, 2005 12:16 AM

There is no need to bear arms anymore.

But only if one totally misunderstands the raison d'etre of Hizbullah (and why it requires Syria's patronage and why it can't even pretend to be part of an independent Lebanon).

Clueless doesn't begin to describe such a statement.

(It's sort of like, but no not exactly, saying, "But what did Hitler really have to fear from Europe? He really didn't have to wage war. I mean, what was the poor chap thinking of?")

But then---unless there's a far more sinister motive---it's been the clueless falling over one another to lead the clueless for some time now.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2005 1:53 AM

I'll be generous and say that groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have a choice. They can change to peaceful political parties and participate in the system like Fianna Fail or they can remain criminal enterprises like Sinn Fein.

Hezbollah arose, unlike Hamas, out of a legitimate grievance. The settlement of the 1958 civil war in Lebanon left the Shia population, especially working-class Shia, effectively powerless, yet they were about 25% of the country. But that is not a surprise when that settlement was imposed on Lebanon by the racist criminals and Saudi stooges who ran American foreign policy in the period. The problem got worse when the so-called 'Palestinians' threw off the delicate ethnic balance of the region.

The war has not been good for the Shia and its continuation after a Syrian withdrawal will make things worse.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 6:29 AM

Barry:

Give them back a state to fight for control of and that becomes their reason.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 8:38 AM

You got it backwards, oj. They're fighting to keep Syria in Lebanon.

Um, just why might that be?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2005 10:49 AM

They're afraid of losing the coming power struggle.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 10:58 AM

"You got it backwards, oj. They're fighting to keep Syria in Lebanon.

Um, just why might that be?"

It must be an illusion, Barry. As we all know, the Shiites are part of the grand democratic, Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran to Baalbek.

Now close your eyes, and click your heels three times, saying, "There're no democrats like the Shia. There're no democrats like Shia..."

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 2:22 PM

What "Bart" leaves out of his tendentious history is that Hizbollah formed in 1982, not 1958, as he seems to imply. It was, in fact, a reaction to Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, and it's an instructive lesson on the hazards of unintended consequences.

See this link:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0307/p07s02-wome.html
"Hizbullah (which means "Party of God" in Arabic) is a Shiite Muslim militia founded in 1982 after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Originally established with help from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Hizbullah's initial goals were to expel Israel from Lebanon and establish an Islamic state similar to that in Iran. Hizbullah is widely believed to be responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 US service members. From 1982 to 2000, Hizbullah fought a guerrilla war against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. When Israeli troops withdrew in May 2000, many in Lebanon and the Arab world credited Hizbullah with achieving the first Arab military victory against Israel. But for years, Hizbullah has also been building a network of schools, hospitals, and social services that have won it a political following. The US considers Hizbullah a terrorist organization; so far, despite American pressure, the European Union does not."

What's left out of this discussion is the rather thorny issue of who's going to actually disarm these people? The Syrians won't, the Israelis couldn't and I doubt the Lebanese Army can. At best, Nasrallah will sign some boilerplate agreement to "disarm", and then his people will stash the AK-47's and RPG's in the basement or bury them in the garden, ready for easy retrieval.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 4:19 PM

The underlying conditions which led to the creation of Hezbollah arose out of the failures of the 1958 constitution, which left the Shia as 2d class citizens. The Israeli action in Lebanon, to root out the PLO terrorists, was conducted with some pretty poor diplomacy. The Israelis and the rural Shia over the border had historically enjoyed good relations, it was after all called 'the friendly border.' Many, if not most, of the soldiers of the SLA were Shia. Had the Israelis chosen to back the Shia, under Nabih Berry, instead of the inept Amin Gemayel, things would have turned out different.

Hezbollah was the result of Iranians figuring out a way to exploit the reasonable discontent of the Shia population of Lebanon. They flooded the place with money and Hezbollah was able to sponsor the kinds of social programs that had been theretofore unavailable to the Shia. It was a simple matter to translate that into political support, a rice-and-beans strategy nearly always works among the downtrodden.

The Maronites were sponsored by the French, and later by the Israelis. The Sunni by the Saudis. The Orthodox and the Shia gravitated towards the Syrians because of Ba'athism(founded by an Orthodox Christian from Lebanon, Michel Aflaq) and Iranian money, respectively.

As for disarmament, I would imagine that if there is no large power in the region insisting that people be armed, that it should proceed apace. The US has always frustrated Israeli efforts at self-defense so the Israelis were never allowed to do the rough stuff needed. An American-equipped and trained Lebanese military should be able to engage in whatever actions are needed to disarm recalcitrant factions.

Lebanon is about the same size as Delaware, and has only 3.6 million people.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 5:29 PM

"Had the Israelis chosen to back the Shia, under Nabih Berry, instead of the inept Amin Gemayel, things would have turned out different."

Yeah, instead of losing men in a pointless conflict with the Shiites, they would have lost men in a pointless conflict with the Sunnis, Druze or Maronites.

"As for disarmament, I would imagine that if there is no large power in the region insisting that people be armed, that it should proceed apace."

...as we all know that clannish tribes living in the mountains are always happy to surrender their weapons on a handshake with their deadliest rivals.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 5:53 PM

Why would they disarm until there are elections that put them in power?

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 6:29 PM

Once Amnesty International and the MSM are booted out or occupied elsewhere, should the army of an independent Lebanon feel the need to turn the Shouf Mountains into the Shouf Valley, nothing would stop them.

Imagining a conflict between Druzes and Israelis shows a complete lack of understanding about regional rivalries. The Sunnis would do what they always do, run out of their shoes. The Maronites would have had to face reality and the various rather silly internecine conflicts among Franjiehs, Chamouns and Gemayels would cease to matter.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 10:27 PM

"Imagining a conflict between Druzes and Israelis shows a complete lack of understanding about regional rivalries."

Walid Jumblatt is as anti-Israeli as any of them. Israeli Druze may be loyal to Israel, but that does not apply to Syrian and Lebanese Druze, who have their own agendas.

"The Sunnis would do what they always do, run out of their shoes."

Yes, just like they've done in Iraq.

"The Maronites would have had to face reality and the various rather silly internecine conflicts among Franjiehs, Chamouns and Gemayels would cease to matter."

If they were backed into a corner, I'm sure it would. Israel would still be stuck in pointless guerrilla conflict. That's the catch. You favor one group, the other group will take it very personally. And even though you're fighting for them, the group you're supporting will knife you in the back without a thought if it benefits them.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 8, 2005 11:46 AM

"Once Amnesty International and the MSM are booted out or occupied elsewhere, should the army of an independent Lebanon feel the need to turn the Shouf Mountains into the Shouf Valley, nothing would stop them."

Well, nothing except for 40% of the population. They managed to get 500,000 people into Beirut today according to the AP. That's some pretty impressive discipline. More than the Lebanese Army will muster anytime soon.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 8, 2005 11:49 AM

Which is why it's fortunate that the Israelis' ultimate allies are the majority (plurality) Shi'a.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 11:50 AM

You've overstated the number by at least two and a half times, but you're right it does show that Lebanon will finally have to treat the Shi'a fairly.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 11:57 AM

How many of the 'Lebanese' brought in for the demonstration were Syrians either trucked in from Syria itself or guestworkers? ABC radio reported the demonstration as tens of thousands. Hezbollah has a following. Getting poor people into the street is not difficult. How many are willing and able to actually fight about it? If Fouad Ajami's Dream Palace of the Arabs is any indicator, most Lebanese Shia are not tied up with the religious lunacy of the Iranian Ayatollahs.

When confronted by force, the Sunnis have proved to be no match for military force from serious nations. There are a few nutcases and dead-enders but for the most part the 'resistance' is over. The continuing focus on carbombings as being some kind of resistance is like claiming American democracy is invalid because there are drive-by shootings in American inner-city neighborhoods.

A stable Lebanon benefits all Lebanese, especially if it can return to its role of banker and holiday destination of first resort for the oil sheiks. The heads of the clans are the biggest beneficiaries for obvious reasons. Thus, it is in their interest to put aside their issues that arose during the Civil War and move forward. The profit-maximizing Christian Lebanese of pretty much every Latin American market town understand this, how can we expect any less from them at home?

Lebanese democracy will have opponents in Lebanon. There are people who benefitted from the Syrian occupation who will not benefit from liberation. But they are a small minority of the country. Why should Assad's stooges and a few Iranian agents be given any more veto power than Saddam's thugs in present-day Iraq?

Posted by: Bart at March 8, 2005 2:20 PM

Bart:

None. They're Shi'a who are being told to disarm in a country where they've been oppressed. Why should they trust Sunnis & Christians again?

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 2:28 PM

The number I'm quoting comes from AP and was flashed up on Drudge's site. That number is way too large to account for trucked-in Syrians or other such silliness. We'd have certainly heard about something like this alot sooner if that were the case.

"When confronted by force, the Sunnis have proved to be no match for military force from serious nations."

They've engaged the U.S. military in a two-year guerrilla war despite being outnumbered and woefully outequipped. They've effectively punctured the unstoppable hyperpower image we had before the war. They've been poorly officered before, but on the right terrain in the right setting they demonstrate some remarkable discipline and organization.

This is not to say that they are nice people, mind you. They are not. But I would take care before running down their individual courage.

"A stable Lebanon benefits all Lebanese, especially if it can return to its role of banker and holiday destination of first resort for the oil sheiks."

If you're concerned with simply making a good living, this is true. If you're a religious believer, it isn't. That's the catch.

"...how can we expect any less from them at home?"

By looking at the past 25 years of Lebanese history. How they act as a minority in foreign lands does not translate into how they act in their own lands.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 8, 2005 3:42 PM

Derek:

In your dreams. W is strutting aqround like a peacock knocking over regimes with loud words and the Sunni insurgency couldn't even stop an open election. They get by on sufferance because everyone realizes they have no popular support and the Sunni people can be won to the side of democracy without having to annihilate them instead.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 4:53 PM

OJ, he hasn't knocked over one regime with loud words. Those that have fallen peaceably have done so with considerable help from other countries, like France and the EU, as in Lebanon and Ukraine. And the situation in Lebanon hardly looks more congenial to the U.S. right now.

As for the election, it really wasn't open. Nobody knew who the candidates were. They had to hide their identities for fear of assissination. Indeed, that election only happened because Sistani forced the U.S. to agree to them, and the winners are all heavily influenced by the same Iranian regime you revile.

This is not a good return on our investment in blood and treasure.

What's more, the armed forces can't meet recruiting goals, even by dipping into Cat 4 recruits. The threat of U.S. force simply does not carry the menace it did before our invasion. The only country we can credibly threaten is Assad's puny regime, and even then its doubtful we'll invade.

"They get by on sufferance because everyone realizes they have no popular support and the Sunni people can be won to the side of democracy without having to annihilate them instead."

Then why is the guerrilla war still continuing? Why do we feel compelled to seize Sammara, yet again? Long-term guerrilla campaigns don't go on this long without some kind of popular support.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 8, 2005 5:48 PM

hee hee. That's what you're reduced to? Arguing against the obvious course of events?

We seize Samarra because the Sunni being mostly friendly we can't level it. The unpopularity of the insurgency limits our willingness to be as brutal as we've been in prior wars. Imagine Fallujah if we'd felt the Sunni hostile? One nuke with no warning and there's no Zarqawi and his gang.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 6:13 PM

Derek:

Everyone knows who the strong horse is now.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 9, 2005 1:18 PM
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