- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

As the Israeli military and the Lebanese Hezbollah exchange blows and Middle East violence escalates, the chattering class moves to center stage on the pundit circuit. My conclusion after listening to hours of this is to question how little is known by so many about something so important.

In the late 1980s, I was commissioned by Central Television in London — one of the important independent stations in the United Kingdom — to produce a documentary program about hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah. I had access to the material through many old contacts from Lebanon, especially Elie Hobeika. Mr. Hobeika had been chief of security for the Christian Lebanese Forces, but was forced out of the country after heading the operation that killed about 1,200 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982, following the assassination of Christian President-elect Bashir Gemayel. Mr. Hobeika had taken his wing of the Lebanese forces to Syria.

Timing is everything. And my request to Mr. Hobeika arrived at about the same time that Syria wanted to clip Hezbollah’s wings — not directly but through a critical TV documentary. Obviously, any TV investigation about the hostages would not be friendly to Hezbollah. Mr. Hobeika explained to me that Hezbollah’s success in taking hostages had begun to turn around. It wasn’t the terrorist activities of Hezbollah that irritated the Syrians but the lack of coordination. For example, the Syrians were furious when ABC producer Charles Glass was seized and held in the Hezbollah-controlled south Beirut suburbs, and they eventually arranged for him to be freed.

I flew with a Lebanese friend who worked for Mr. Hobeika from Paris to Damascus. Mr. Hobeika met us at the airport, took us to the VIP lounge and phoned Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, actually waking him up. We got visas immediately and then drove with Mr. Hobeika and his security detail to his militia’s headquarters in Zahle, a Christian city in Lebanon, in the Bekaa Valley, which borders Syria.

Early the next day, three trucks filled with Syrian commandos dressed in their pink-and-brown camouflage gear showed up to be our security as we filmed in Baalbek, probably the most dangerous place in the world at the time. They surrounded me in a circle, guns pointed out, as I filmed the Sheik Abdullah Barracks. It was the headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as well as Hezbollah. Several hostages were being held there. After the filming, Sheikh Hussein Mussawi, the head of Hezbollah, sent me a message inviting me to interview him at his headquarters in Baalbek. Talk about deja vu. He excoriated the West for its degeneracy and called the Israelis and Jews “microbes who need to be exterminated.”

Hassan Nasrallah, the current head of Hezbollah, is Mussawi’s direct successor. Before his recent operation — abducting two Israeli soldiers and allowing Israel the opportunity to destroy his military wing — Mr. Nasrallah was thought to be almost infallible. He had acquired the charisma of a winner, which is so important in the Arab world, by claiming to head the only Arab army that ever defeated Israel. This is his own twist on Israel’s 2000 evacuation from Lebanon.

Mr. Nasrallah’s esteem in the Arab world cannot be overstated. He is especially close to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his British-born wife, who look at him as a spiritual being.

It is not widely known that one of Mr. Nasrallah’s sons was killed in a Hezbollah-Israel border attack a few years ago, but this adds to his aura on the street where he lives.

The sweet, fragile Lebanese democracy that some commentators poetically invoke is a hoax. Mr. Nasrallah was the winner of the so-called democratic elections, picking up 14 seats, getting two ministries with a third — Foreign Affairs — in his pocket and making an alliance with the most popular Christian there, Gen. Michel Aoun. This effectively gives him a headlock on state politics.

The Lebanese parliament, under Mr. Nasrallah’s thumb, says that implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, is an “internal affair.” Mr. Nasrallah says it will never happen.

Aside from the $100 million Hezbollah gets from Iran, it gets additional millions from criminal activities in the United States and elsewhere. In one instance, money from a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, N.C., was used to purchase the most sensitive weapons of war in Canada.

We’d be a lot safer with the destruction of Hezbollah. It would be a good lesson to like-minded extremists that what wins is pragma and not dogma.

Barbara Newman is a TV producer, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and co-author of “Lightning out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.”

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