- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

An unprovoked attack by the Hezbollah (“Party of God,” in Arabic) terrorist organization across an internationally recognized border resulted in the killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the taking of two hostages and has plunged the Middle East into a new war.

Hezbollah is terrorism’s “A-Team,” says former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Mr. Armitage refers to Iran the A-Team’s owner and Syria as its coach. Firing short-range missiles into Israel, Hezbollah is the major destabilizing force in the Middle East and the main obstacle to democratization and stability in Lebanon. It is thus a hindrance to the Bush administration’s policy of expanding democracy in the region. It is also one of the major culprits — and targets — in the global war on Islamist terrorism. The majority of the Lebanese, including the non-Shi’a political elite, want Hezbollah disarmed and out of southern Lebanon. Israel appeals determined to carry out this mission, and the United States should not hold its ally back.

Hezbollah’s attack was timed to coincide with the G-8 summit of industrialized nations, which planned to discuss Iran’s rejection of the generous offer it received from the U.S., the E-3 (Great Britain, France, and Germany), Russia, and China. The plan aimed to make the Iranian nuclear program transparent in exchange for massive aid, including a light-water reactor. Tehran responded by ignoring the offer and apparently giving a green light to Hezbollah’s attack on Israel.

The G-8 summit, held in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 15-17, denounced Hezbollah’s attacks. Major U.S. Arab allies in the Middle East, including Egypt, Jordan, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, also have placed responsibility for the new war squarely on the doorstep of Hezbollah and its backers, namely Syria and Iran.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, views with deepening concern Iran’s aggressive attempts to construct an “Arch of Instability” from Lebanon via Syria, including the Shi’a-populated provinces in Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia — all major oil-producing areas.

Iran views Hezbollah as the first line of attack against the U.S. and its ally Israel, a senior Iranian official told Western diplomats in London according to a recent article in Al Sharq al-Awsat. The Iranian leadership, starting with the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the current “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, publicly have denied Israel’s right to exist and called for measures to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Iran founded, funds, trains, and equips Hezbollah with Katyusha missiles, Fajar 3 and 4 missiles, and Zalzal missiles, while Syria, listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist-sponsoring state and a junior partner in the Hezbollah joint venture, facilitates supply of Hezbollah via Damascus International Airport and across the Syrian border.

The U.S. has multiple interests in the current conflict.

(1) It needs to send a strong message to Iran that its policy of using terrorist proxies (Hezbollah and Hamas) to derail the multilateral diplomatic process to make the Iranian nuclear program transparent will not work.

(2) The U.S. and its allies have an interest in assuring that Hezbollah disarms, disperses and ceases to exist as a terrorist militia. The U.S., France, and the government of Lebanon all see the need to severely limit Hezbollah’s capacity to prevent the Lebanese Armed Forces from controlling the country’s territory, especially in southern Lebanon.

(3) The U.S. wants to see stability in Lebanon and development of its democratic government. This means preventing foreign actors, such as Iran and Syria, from destabilizing it.

(4) Finally, the U.S. is interested in limiting civilian casualties in Lebanon and Israel. For that to happen, Hezbollah must stop using civilians as human shields for its massive weapons caches, commanders, headquarters and military targets and stop raining missiles on Israeli towns and villages, indiscriminately targeting civilians.

The United States supports the right of countries to defend themselves under international law, especially while fighting the war on terrorism. Israel indeed has such a right. The government of Lebanon is in explicit violation of international law and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which required it to disarm Hezbollah and take control of the country’s south. Lebanon, out of weakness or ill intent, is ultimately responsible for Hezbollah’s aggression against its neighbor Israel.

While exercising self-defense, Israel is targeting Hezbollah’s positions, weapons depots, training camps, TV and radio stations (which regularly broadcasts blood-curdling propaganda), and other assets. Israel is not deliberately targeting civilians.

But rising civilian casualties are triggering calls for the U.S. to impose a cease-fire before Condoleezza Rice travels to the region and the U.N. Security Council takes up the issue. However, as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton noted, questions arise as to how a sovereign state declares a cease-fire against a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize its existence. The U.S. has not declared a cease-fire against al Qaeda.

The United States should not impose any deadline that would press Israel to cease its fire. Israel has the right and duty to defend itself until its security is ensured and Lebanon’s future is safe from Hezbollah’s provocations. Instead, the U.S. should work with Israel, France, and moderate Arab states to support those elements in Lebanon that want to disarm Hezbollah and end the flow of arms and the support of its sponsors. In the interim, Hezbollah should fully withdraw north out of striking range of Israel and agree to begin surrendering its heavy weapons, including missiles.

This challenge is an opportunity to make both Lebanon and Israel more secure and to score a victory in the global war on terrorism.

Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy security at the Sarah and Douglas Allison Center of the Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.


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