By Franklin Lamb in Lebanon
Part IV: Bait, Hook and Switch: the US Offer and the Quid Pro Quo
"Absolutely not! Without a credible deterrent force, there is no real Lebanese sovereignty. Israel came very close to getting nearly all it wanted with the 1983 May 17th agreement. Had Hezbollah not prevented this, Lebanon today would be colonized with near confederation status with Israel. The Bush administrations democracy and ’save the Christians’ crusade back-fired when each election resulted in Islamist victories while his war in Iraq and support for Israel is making refugees of a high percentage of Christians. It is now Hezbollah and its allies who are protecting the Christians and want free elections in the Middle East, not the Bush administration." – American student interviewed as part of a survey of 27 Lebanese institutions of higher education on whether Hezbollah should immediately disarm
Disarming Hezbollah: the Bush Administration Will Not Insist
As noted previously, the US government is not obsessed by Hezbollah’s deterrent capability. It appears prepared to back off from this issue and signal to Hezbollah that it can keep its weapons if they use them only in legitimate self-defense against a foreign attack.
This seemingly sharp change of policy is similar to Secretary of State Rice’s apparent switch from Bush administration demands regarding an immediate election of a Lebanese president to her April 14, 2008 statement that it is really not necessary after all. Beirut’s pro-government An Nahar newspaper reported this week than an Arab diplomat quoted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as telling the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that the absence of a president in Lebanon was not a problem and that her top priority was to keep Premier Fouad Siniora as head of the executive body: “What’s wrong with keeping the situation in Lebanon as it is? Our priority is to keep Fouad Siniora as head of the democratically elected government…and that he acts according to the powers granted to him and the president,” the source, according to Beirut’s As Safir daily, quoted Rice.
The new US rationale creates a legal fiction to avoid the “resistance/militia” problem presented by UNSC Resolutions 1559 and 1701 and would align the US position with the views of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the current Prime Minister Siniora as well as a majority in Parliament, the Lebanese public the United Nations membership. To wit:
The 2005 Lebanese cabinet statement: “The government considers that Lebanon’s resistance is a sincere and natural expression of the Lebanese people’s right to defend its land and dignity in the face of Israeli aggression threats, and ambitions as well as it’s right to continue its actions to free Lebanese territory.”
Hassan Nasrallah, in his speech at Bint Jbeil on May 25, 2005, explained that during meetings with Prime Minister Rafic Hariri that they had become friends and that Hariri offered to write out is his own handwriting a statement regarding the right of the resistance to bear arms.
According to Nasrallah: “I told him, “Forgive me, please; I do not want you to do that; I will accept your word. Just say it and it will be enough. He (PM Rafic Hariri) then said to me, word-for word, ‘After a careful examination of the resistance’s experience, performance, wisdom, equilibrium, and efficiency, I came to believe in it. I can also tell you that if I become prime minister again, I will not implement that paragraph in Resolution 1559. I agree that the resistance and its weapons must stay until a comprehensive settlement is reached in the region.”
His son, Saad Hariri confirmed this to CNN when he stated that Hezbollah was not an armed militia but an armed resistance movement for all of Lebanon. Moreover, the State Department Office of the General Council knows the legal and political effect of the February 2006 Siniora declaration that his government will not call Hezbollah “by any name other than the resistance”.
Does the Lebanese public want Hezbollah to disarm?
A recent survey of an important segment of Lebanese opinion confirms that the general Lebanese public favors Hezbollah retaining its deterrent capability pending a just resolution of the Question of Palestine.
As part of a research project on Hezbollah, an admittedly unscientific survey of 27 Lebanese institutions of higher learning was undertaken, conducted over a four month period. The following questions were posed to randomly approached students, faculty and staff from, among others, the American University of Science and Technology, University of Balamand, American University of Beirut, Arab Open University, University of Saint Joseph, Beirut Arab University, Islamic University of Lebanon, Lebanese American University. (To consult the complete list of the 27 Lebanese institutions surveyed please inquire c/o: email@example.com)
1. Do you favor Hezbollah retaining its armed military wing and its weapons for the time being?
2. If yes, why?
3. If no, why not?
Of those surveyed, 12% thought Hezbollah should immediately turn its weapons over to the Lebanese Army after agreement with the Government and with international guarantees in place that Israel would not attack Lebanon again. The main reasons given were variations on the idea that a sovereign country should have only one source of authority and control over its military and deterrence capability.
The remaining 88% surveyed thought that Hezbollah should retain its weapons for the time being and offered a range of reasons:
• Hezbollah is currently the only force In Lebanon capable of deterring Israeli aggression;
• Having Hezbollah as a deterrent force at this time is in Lebanon’s national interest given US and Israel provocations such as the 6th fleet, numerous threats, Israeli over flights, assassinations etc.;
• Israel continues to interfere with our water sources and threatens war over Lebanon’s use of our own Wazzani and Hasbani Rivers;
• UN Security Council Resolution 425 has not yet been implemented as Israel continues to occupy the Shebaa farms, the village of Ghajar, and other parcels of Lebanese land;
• Israel cannot be trusted not to invade Lebanon at will and US ‘guarantees’ are worthless as Lebanon and the world saw in 1982 when the US ‘guaranteed’ the safety of the Palestinian Refugee Camps including Sabra-Shatila;
• Israel still has not released our Lebanese hostages and prisoners and arrests our citizens along the northern border of Palestine at will;
• Hezbollah has a national and moral duty to retain a military capacity to support the liberation of Palestine, the central cause for Arabs;
• Without facing a credible deterrent, Israel would never consider giving back the occupied Golan Heights to Syria;
• Without Hezbollah being able to contain and deter Zionist Israel, Lebanon’s resources would be siphoned by Israel including its water, its land, and its independence;
• Hezbollah is the only Party with broad enough support, moral suasion, and substance to maintain stability and prevent a US/Israeli encouraged civil war;
• Hezbollah keeps the US from repeating the 1982-83 intervention and disaster;
• Some American students studying in Lebanon identified with the views expressed by a student from New York: “A strong Hezbollah provides moral support to resistance and liberation efforts in the Middle East and human rights causes in the West. For example, the American people have a daunting task in breaking the Zionist hold on its government and its media. But it is slowly being achieved by education and the American people learning the facts of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Lebanon. Hezbollah’s success inspires and encourages this movement”;
• “There is no other group to protect Lebanon. UNIFIL has never been respected by Israel and the Lebanese army is too weak and will likely remain so because the Bush administration and Israel worry its arms may be used to defend Lebanon against, God forbid, Israel!”;
• Hezbollah helps protect UNIFIL and even the US Embassy from al Qaeda kidnappings and attacks;
• A strong Hezbollah provides inspiration and moral support for increasing numbers of Lebanese, Europeans and Americans who reject the Bush administration aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and its funding of Israeli aggression with its killing in Lebanon and Palestine;
• In the early 1980s Lebanese President Amin Gemayel moved against the weapons in Muslim west Beirut but did not disturb the Phalangist arms in Christian east Beirut. In addition, Gemayel ordered the army to remove Shia from their homes on the outskirts of Beirut shortly after he was inaugurated. We need a settlement before we feel trust and confidence to give up the security we now have;
• Hezbollah’s strength gives the Palestinians hope whereas leaders of Arabs states have failed to join the liberation/resistance struggle either in Palestine or Lebanon, some as a result of being bought off such as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf or threatened;
• Given the long history of discrimination against Lebanon’s Shia population, Hezbollah’s vigor gives the community confidence as they rebuild their lives and try to get the government to deliver services to their areas;
• Our citizens continue to die in the South from US/Israeli landmines and cluster bombs and Israel still refuses to give the UN demining teams maps to help clear them;
• The Lebanese army is weak and the US/Israel project is intent on keeping it weak;
• Israel’s threat to transfer the Palestinian population must be resisted and only Hezbollah currently has the power and credibility to do this;
• The Lebanese Resistances’ strength has a stabilizing and calming affect on Lebanon because it will not allow others to provoke another civil war;
• The question of Hezbollah’s weapons should be referred to the new government following the coming elections and the selection of a President;
• The Bush administration push to disarm the Lebanese Resistance is an Israeli decision to help Israel, not to help the Lebanese people.
A recent editorial in the conservative Beirut Daily Star reflects the views of much of Lebanon’s academic community:
“During all the years that Hezbollah conducted low-intensity warfare against Israeli occupation forces in South Lebanon (and perhaps even in 2006), there were many instances in which its capacity to exact a heavier toll deterred or limited escalation by the Jewish state… Hezbollah came into existence as the direct result of Israeli aggression. Today the party serves a far wider variety of social, political and economic purposes, but it was born of a refusal to acquiesce in Israel’s continual abuse and bullying of this country. …
The history matters more than anything else because solving a problem requires an understanding of cause and effect – and because the historical behavior that created the situation has not changed: The Israelis have not, for example, fully vacated the Lebanese territory they occupy, stopped violating Lebanese airspace, or provided badly needed firing data that might help demining crews clear unexploded ordnance that has killed or wounded 300 Lebanese since the end of the 2006 war.
By stressing Hezbollah’s guns today instead of the decades of innumerable depredations to which they have been a response, therefore, the Security Council tries to put the cart before the horse.
The bottom line is that Hezbollah will not grant impunity for the Israelis to run roughshod over the Lebanese as they have the Palestinians. The sooner the Security Council absorbs that immutable fact, the sooner it can get to work on the source of the conflict. If not, it becomes even more important for March 14 to do so because if Israel retains its “free pass,” this country and its government is going to need all the strength they can muster.”
“Believe it or not there are some plusses for the Bush administration if Hezbollah is strong”, explained a Senate Intelligence Committee Staffer during an email exchange recently:
“It seems they (the Bush administration) don’t see any really good options right now nor do they see certain long term American benefits if Hezbollah disarms. Some see a strong Hezbollah as a deterrent to regional interference in Lebanon. Hezbollah might be the stabilizing factor in the region the international community is looking for. Being Lebanese nationalists, if need be in the finally analysis they [Hezbollah] can be counted on to stand up to Syria, Israel or Iran for the good of their people and country.”
“The terrorism case against Hezbollah is weak and the Administration does not feel it has solid grounds to pursue it. Believe it or not some of us were a little embarrassed back in October of 2001 when then National Security advisor Rice was new on the job and expressed surprise to the international media that so many in Lebanon supported Hezbollah which she claimed, without offering any proof, “has killed innocent people”.
The next question for Rice from a reporter was to ask her about the US bombing that very same day by the Bush administration of the Sultanpur Mosque in Jalalabad which killed more than 200 family worshippers.
Rice said she had no knowledge of that and would get back to the Reporter, who the last I heard was still waiting her reply.
“The point is their [Hezbollah’s] record is better than ours and given our credibility problem the US does not want to touch the “you are worse than we are pissing contest”.
Hezbollah has not attacked us for almost 25 years, really since they went public in 1985. We discount the early and wild 1980s a bit because they weren’t really organized and we were also playing pretty rough over there (in Lebanon) when we used the New Jersey and tried to hit Fadlallah and some other stuff. We don’t need to fight Hezbollah. There are plenty of other actors out there who constitute a real threat to us and we know Hezbollah, like us, can’t always choose associates which sometimes geopolitical conditions impose”.
For nearly a quarter century the feelers from the American side have been variations of selected boilerplate tenders. Recent Middle East realities have added some others.
What the Bush administration wants from Hezbollah:
• A public announcement of, and adherence to, a Hezbollah policy that separates Islam from terrorism in the minds of the western public, i.e. between religions on the one hand and terrorist activity on the other. This, the US argues, will allow for acceptance of Hezbollah in the West and allow for normalizing relations;
• In a switch from sponsoring salafists against Hezbollah, Washington now wants a “security cooperation understanding” with Hezbollah whereby it would monitor al Qaeda and provide the US with information about groups or individuals Hezbollah may have information about. For example, those who are apt to strike inside the US;
• Hezbollah is to agree to stay away from the Blue Line from Naqoura to Khiam and further up opposite Shebaa Farms;
• To end its encouragement of and support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad;
• Remove itself from activity regarding Syria and the Golan Heights and leave that issue to the parties directly concerned;
• Desist from making an issue of the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar and leave it to the US and the UN to see that Israel withdraws;
• Pull back from Iran and concentrate on its own role as a political party operating strictly for, of and by Lebanon.
• Hezbollah must separate itself from the Arab-Israeli conflict including Jerusalem;
• Hezbollah should commit to Lebanon not taking more than its “equitable share” of the Lebanese rivers and water sources including the Wazzani, which, argues the Bush administration, supplies 30% of “Israel’s Jordan River” (!)
• Hezbollah must agree not to interfere with the naturalization or relocation of Palestinians in Lebanon or with transferring groups of them internationally to suitable countries for ‘proper settlement’ as a resolution of the Right of Return issue.
What does Hezbollah get in return?
-Dr. Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.