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Posted by on Jul 25, 2007 in Uncategorized | 29 comments

A Non-Violent Approach to Containing Hezbollah

In the American press, most of the discussion about Hezbollah is hawkish and militaristic, caught up in the details about how best to “wipe them out.” The general consensus amongst most analysts seems to be that Israel, in its campaign against Hezbollah last summer, just didn’t go far enough. If they’d only been willing to commit more troops or drop more bombs, Hezbollah would no longer be such a powerful actor in the region.

But such conclusions ignore the lessons of history. Repeated campaigns to destroy Hezbollah have failed. In fact, the Lebanese group is now widely considered to be more powerful than ever. Perceived by much of Lebanon’s Shiite population (as well as broad sections of its Sunni and Christian groups) as the only effective buffer against foreign aggression, Hezbollah’s reputation has only been strengthened each time efforts are taken to destroy it militarily. Indeed, Hezbollah’s resistance against the Israeli invasion last summer has boosted the group’s popularity to all-time highs and convinced many Lebanese that the organization is critical for their country’s national defense.

With this in mind, I was impressed to read Nicholas Noe’s excellent op-ed in The New York Times. Thoughtful and pragmatic, Noe argues similarly that military efforts to weaken Hezbollah have failed. The alternative? A non-violent approach to weaken the group’s popularity and de-legitimize its right to be the country’s only remaining armed militia.

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.

Noe continues, sketching out the details of what a non-violent approach to containing Hezbollah would look like:

…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.

(Originally posted at Foreign Policy Watch)

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • jdledell

    Jeb – Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. Just yesterday, I was making these same points on one of Jason’s posts and was roundly booed. Get ready for a lively thread.

  • Looking forward to it!

  • 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.

    That just doesn’t ring true with me. My life experience is that there are lots of people who continue to like the song regardless of who sings it or what past experience with them suggests. I think there will be lots of EU, people in the U. S. , even people in Israel who, when the next set of demands are made, will say “Okay, these are the last demands…”

    I think the lessons of history are somewhat difference than you seem to, Jeb. I think the lessons of history are that you can either accede to terrorisms demands which, since terrorists are human, too, encourages them to seek more, tolerate them (which won’t dissuade them), or use the required amount of force applied in the way that will eliminate the threat (as Jordan did).

    Actually, I don’t think that tolerance is that poor a choice. My own view of the lessons of history is that a generation or so can make a significant difference. Yesterday’s revolutionaries and firebrands may eventually be replaced by those with a less intractible view. The question is how to keep the level of violence down to a tolerable level? What sacrifices must the society make to achieve that goal? That’s the sort of calculation that makes responding with the level of violence required look more acceptable.

    Among the many challenges that Israel faces in dealing with its neighbors is the prospect of a loss of confidence on the part of Israelis in their own government.

  • jdledell

    Dave – A couple of comments on your 3 ways to handle the situation. First, your comment about using the right amount of force like Jordan did. My contention is the Lebanese situation and Jordan are fundementally different. When Jordan fought and threw out the Palestinians one of the primary reasons was the indiginous population neither liked or supported Arafat’s crew. In Lebanon, Hezballah IS the indiginous population.

    Second of all, I think leaders can change their stripes. I think back to when my Grandfather and Begin were in the Irgun together. Begin was as tough a fighter against the British and arabs as anyone, yet he became Prime Minister and Peacemaker. The same was true of Sadat, from warrior to peacemaker. King Abdullah’s father went from warrior to peacemaker. Most of Lebanon’s leaders were heavily involved in their vicious civil war but when accomodations were made, they could more or less live and work together.

    We have made peace and helped install the Dawa party as the leaders of Iraq. These are the same people who bombed our Embassey in Kuwait in 1983. Look how we treat Libya and Ghadafi. From terroist to ??? If we can make accomodations with Ghadafi is it unrealistic to at least try with Nasrallah? I don’t know if it would work and neither does anyone else. If we can’t work out a deal are we worse off than today?

    Just tolerating the “other side” for a generation may work, or it may not. We are a couple generations into the Palestinian conflict with no end in sight. I think the risks involved in a peace deal with Syria, Lebanon and Palestine are at least worth trying. The primary reason Olmert’s poll numbers are in single digits is that he has made only half hearted efforts at both war AND peace. That leaves Israel in never never land which the people find very unsettling.

  • Good post Jeb.

    Noe outlines a position I’ve held for quite a while. The Lebanese and the Palestinians have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed if Israel/US are serious about peace.

  • Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all the interesting comments and feedback. Unfortunately, I am at work today until very late and won’t have much of a chance to weigh in here. I will definitely read all the comments, however, and consider carefully all that is being said.

  • Entropy

    So the suggestion here is that Israel should unilaterally “remove” these four issues with no quid pro quo and then hope Hezbollah and Syria plays nice? Interesting theory.

  • jdledell

    Entropy – It would be silly to negotiate making only concessions. Israel has a number of things it wants and needs from Lebanon and Syria. First, there must be Hezballah disarmement by means of incorporating a significant portion of their fighters into the Lebanese army. Also, direct ties between Iran and Syria must be cut and replaced by government to government relations. The same conditions apply to Syria in reducing relations with Iran and demilitarization of the Golan.

    I’m sure that Israel can think of many other things they might want, like a water deal from the Golan and Litani watersheds. Israel should put forth it’s wish list when they negotiate. That’s how deals get done – both sides get something.

  • Rudi

    Israel’s military took a image beating and lost last summer because they didn’t crush Hezbelloh. The battle against Hezbelloh will be a conventional and asymmetric war, the hawks in the US and Israel think wars are like Grenada and Yugoslavia. Afghanistan, for both the USSR and US, should be the model.

  • Entropy

    I missed this before:

    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.

    Why must the US address these issues? The US cannot force Israel into making these concessions, nor should it try. We didn’t force a peace with Egypt – the two parties came to that on their own accord.

    And the Shebaa Farms issue is interesting. Historically, it’s actually been Syrian land, not Lebanese, and Hezbollah has been using it as an excuse since Israel pulled out of Lebanon for further attacks. Even the UN long considered the area Syrian and not Lebanese, though it might change it’s mind. Why should Israel turn over land to “Lebanon” that almost no one in the international community believes is actually Lebanese?

    At the very least an official, internationally-recognized demarcation of the border in that area is needed before Israel should turn it over to Lebanon. Right now the question of Shebaa is still in dispute.

  • The US cannot force Israel into making these concessions, nor should it try.

    You really think that?

    The U.S. gives Israel an enormous amount of military aid. All the U.S. has to do is say we won’t give you anymore aid if you don’t do X, Y or Z. Voila.

    As for if the U.S. “should” try to force Israel’s hand, I would say it has an obligation to try, because of the enormous amount of aid Israel receives.

  • Entropy

    Chris,

    Yes, I really think that. Allies typically don’t threaten each other to get them to do something they don’t want to do, and besides, most of the aid Israel receives is due to treaty obligations stemming from the peace with Egypt – which is why we give Egypt billions a year in aid too. Threatening that aid would be a threat to abrogate our treaty obligations. Notice we are not exactly threatening Egypt with cutting off aid even though it isn’t doing everything we’d like it to. There’s a sound reason for that.

    And even were it desirable, Israel would not bow to such pressure on an issue that it considers vital to its survival as a nation. Certainly that is clear.

    I find it strange that somehow the US is required to coerce Israel while at the same time provide free concessions to Israel’s enemies.

    Now, if I thought handing over Shebaa, ending overflights, etc. was a good policy (which I don’t unless there is an adequate quid pro quo), then I would use the traditional methods of convincing allies – namely diplomacy and perhaps inducements and other positive measures – you know, the same things people keep suggesting we do with Syria, Iran et al.

  • jdledell:

    Your point about Begin supports the point I’d made about the passage of time. Nearly 30 years passed between when he was commander of the Irgun and when he became Prime Minister of Israel. Basically, a generation.

    That’s enough time for a lot of things to change—the people, the circumstances, the political pressures are all different.

    The notion that Nasrallah, last year ordering the firing of rockets into Israeli towns, will this year sincerely seek peace is possible but unlikely. My experience has been that people keep doing what worked for them in the past long after it stops working. Your experience may be different.

    But I have no doubt that in 20 or 30 years the circumstances and political pressures on Nasrallah will be different (if he’s still around). Can the Israelis wait that long?

  • Entropy

    Dave,

    You’re right that time is a great moderator. Even Arafat, to an extent, moderated, and so did Sharon.

    Personally, I believe we must at least wait until the Palestinians unite around a leader with the moral authority to represent them in negotiations with Israel. I just don’t see how a solution there is possible while Palestine remains in a state of civil war.

  • jdledell

    Dave – Begin was elected to the First Knesset so he immediately went from “terrorist” to parlimentarian. It was 19 years before he went from parlimentarian to PM. Sadat made his first peace overtures in 1974 less than a year after the 1973 war with Israel. Arafat took a generation to change. Sometimes it may take a generation and sometimes it doesn’t.

    The real question in my mind is not whether Nasrallh is the immediate change type or the generational type. There is only one way to find out, try negotiations. I think Israel would be far better off if it could solve these issues soon rather than risk another generation bouncing from crisis to crisis.

  • Rudi

    Entropy – Do you forget Bush 41 and Baker? The hawks here in the US never forgave Baker for his “appeasment”.

  • Kevin H

    I think Dave is partially right, and right on when he says “a generation or so can make a significant difference.” I think Israel and the US need to think about the next generation of Hezbollah, not focus on the hardliners who won’t change their stance to matter what.

    However, that doesn’t preclude addressing the 4 “bleeding wounds”, well at least 2 of them. The minefields and overflights are strong, daily reminds to the Lebanese youth that Israel is a strong, non-friendly force in their lives, and I believe help maintain the growth of Hezbollah into the next generation. I think at least these two should be negotiated with Lebanon.

    As to the US’s influence over Israel… It certainly has influence, and Allies use all sorts of influence on other allies ranging from gentle suggestion to ultimatums. The administration certainly doesn’t want to alienate Israel, and I don’t think it is a good idea to go into this threatening to remove funds from the start, but there are must gentle ways to suggest the same thing. Diplomatic tactics can always change if Israel isn’t seeing things eye to eye.

  • domajot

    Time can be a great moderator. True enough.
    There is no way to preidct what new events and crises will occur while waiting for itme to do its work, however.
    Relying on the passage of time can also lead to complacency and missed opportunities.

    The erosion of support for Israel internationally is a major concern. As I think that support from abroad is vitally important, Israel needs to consider its image when it decides on strategies. Maybe a gesture demontrating good intentions re Hezbellah could help, especially as the land mines are the source of so much bad publicity.

    It seems to me that beginning negotiations with the maps on the table as Israel’s part of the bargain is somehting that could be helpful long before the principals are old and gray.

  • Israel should give up the maps of the mines because it’s the right thing to do. Unless killing innocent peasants is now morally defensible because the victims happen to live in Lebanon.

    Using the mines as a bargaining tool would simply betray a barbarism on Israel’s part that would put them on the same level as the terrorist organizations whose tactics they claim to be above.

    You end up with both sides saying: “Do we what want or we’ll blow you up.”

  • Bones_708

    Israel has said that they have turned over all their maps of minefields, Syria will not confirm or deny officially who Shebaa Farms belongs to, many Lebanese prisoners are in custody for deliberately killing civilians so screw them, and the overflights are to try and keep people from indiscriminate attacks on the Israeli civilian population, which it sure seems like they were just threatened with again.

    Those 4 basic thing seem either made up or not real basic.

  • jdledell

    Bones708 – You are correct Israel has turned over the old mine fields, however they have not yet turned over maps showing the fields showered with cluster bombs. The UN cartographer is in the area now but according to the Israeli press, indications that he will make his preliminary report of Lebanese ownership of Shebba Farms, official next month.

    I think Israel is making a mistake with it’s continual overflights – it is prohibited by UN resolution 1701 and does nothing but cause itself international grief. The overflights are made by fighter aircraft not reconnaisance aircraft – their purpose is intimidation. Israel has satellites and high flying reconnaisance aircraft to keep tabs on Hezballah and the Lebanese would never know they were there. Drop the cowboy stuff, like diving down on the French UN force.

  • Bones_708

    Cluster bombs are not mines so they are not the same issue. I have heard that they haven’t given maps but I have not heard the reason. I wonder if they even have the locations that they are supposed to turn over? In any case that statement “handing over of maps of the land mines” is obviously about PR not reality which makes any claims or requests suspect in my eyes. Now I don’t consider Wiki a normally quotable source but…

    Israel immediately after the cease-fire gave the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) maps indicating the likely locations of unexploded ordnance, to aid the international attempt to clear these areas and avoid injury to the population. However, these maps only showed the general location of unexploded ordnance and were not useful for systematic clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munitions. Immediately after the ceasefire, Israel distributed warning notices to the residents in the areas of warfare, and recommended that they wait a few days before returning to the south until the UNIFIL forces cleared the area of unexploded ordnance. Clearance experts have estimated that it will take 12-18 months to remove the immediate threat from unexploded ordnance from southern Lebanon.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluster_bombs

    The issue with Shebba Farms ignores that the land was sized not from Lebanon at all Rather from Syria with the Golan heights in ’67 and only after being occupied by Israel did Syria say it belong to Lebanon, though never officially of course. It ignores that no one lived on the “Farms” when they were taken and that it’s less than 10 square kilometres. That this is not a reason but rather just an excuse for continued violence.

    As for the over flights being fighter of course they are. They are there and showing that they are there as a warning of what will happen if you fire a missile. If a missile goes up then they will come down. They are not there to track troop movements!

    Again not so basic

  • Entropy

    Bones708 – You are correct Israel has turned over the old mine fields, however they have not yet turned over maps showing the fields showered with cluster bombs.

    Looks like Hezbollah is “moving the goalposts!” Oh, you gave us the mine maps? What we really meant was the cluster-bomb maps!

    I think Israel is making a mistake with it’s continual overflights – it is prohibited by UN resolution 1701 and does nothing but cause itself international grief. The overflights are made by fighter aircraft not reconnaisance aircraft – their purpose is intimidation. Israel has satellites and high flying reconnaisance aircraft to keep tabs on Hezballah and the Lebanese would never know they were there.

    So overflights by recon aircraft and UAV’s is ok then?

  • How could one possibly have a map of anything more than the general areas in which one might find unexploded ordinance?

    The Shebaa Farms, from what I understand, is such a worthless little corner of land that any claim by Hezbollah for it is clearly pretextual. The U.N. declared it Syrian, so I don’t see where Hezbollah has any right to complain about it.

    Let me ask you this, Jeb. Are there any demands by terrorists that you think SHOULDN’T be acquiesced to?

  • jdledell

    Entropy – All I am saying is that true reconaissance by either satellites or U-2, SR-71 aircraft would be more seffective and if the Lebanese cannot detect them, their is no negative PR. I’m not saying it’s okay, just offering an alternative.

    PatHMV – The following link gives an excellent overview of the Shebaa Farms history and importance. Don’t be put off by the fact that it was written by a Syrian, this is just a compendium of information that can be found in bits and pieces elsewhere on the web.

    Shebaa Farms

  • domajot

    I don’t think quibbling over the map of Shebaa Farms or the exact nature of unexploded ordinance or the details of what means Israel uses to conduct survellance should be the issue here.
    The details of what Israel brings to the negotiating table and what it asks in return are for Israel to decide.

    What is important is that Israel not depend on waiting uutil everyone moderates, gambling everything on the porssibility that moderation will, in fact, occur. The flip side of that gamble is that things could equally possibly get much worse.

    I think there should be movement of some sort, an attempt. It would give Israel an opportunity to showcase its sincerity in wanting to resolve some of the issues causing the most damage to its reputation. If nothing comes of it, then nothing comes of it. The attempt, however, would be on record. If opponents don’t show an equal willingness to tackle these issues seriously, then that would be on record, too, for the world to see.

    Waiting too long is as risky as jumping in without forethought, IMO.

  • jdledell

    domajot – I agree. Lets try to get the parties together and see if they can exchange enough to make a deal. Both Israel and Lebanon could use a good dose of tranquility and stability.

  • Entropy

    So who should Israel negotiate with? Hezbollah, an illegal non-state militia? The Palestinians, leaderless and in civil war? Syria is the only possibility I see.

    Personally, I think negotiating with Hezbollah would be to recognize they are a quasi-nation entity separate from lebanon. How can Israel negotiate with Hezbollah unless Lebanon is included? What Palestinian leader has the authority and cachet to speak for a majority of the Palestinian people? I don’t see one.

    Waiting is probably the best course of action at this point.

  • domajot

    Entropy-

    Negotiations would be with Lebanon (where Hezbollah is represented in the government).

    It would all be a long shot and even the tiniest progress could not be achieved without outside (UN?) help. I feel it would be good for Israel’s image to make an attempt, however,even if it fails.

    The Palestinians are a mess, but as long as Abbas is the president, he can negotiate, at least concerning the West Bank.

    No miracles will be forthcoming, I’m sure. Giving up seems like the worst choice, though, now that the international community is paying attention again. Keeping hope alive is one way to try to stop deterioration.

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