Sunday, July 30, 2006

In January 2002, I wrote that following the battle in Afghanistan (and before the war in Iraq) the next target in the war on terror should be Lebanon. The case for destroying Hezbollah four years ago is the same as it is today, namely, that it creates instability in the region and threatens our interests. If the group had been eliminated at that time, the current conflict would never have happened.

Besides the broader strategic goals of increasing stability, defeating Islamic fundamentalism and weakening the influence of Iran and Syria, the United States also had another reason to take on Hezbollah — that is, to eliminate a terrorist group that had kidnaped and murdered hundreds of Americans. For those who may have forgotten, here is a partial list of Hezbollah’s acts of war against the United States:

1982-1988 — Hezbollah held David Dodge, acting president of the American University in Beirut, captive for a year; kidnaped and murdered Malcolm Kerr, a Lebanese-born American who was president of the American University of Beirut; abducted Jeremy Levin, Beirut bureau chief of CNN, who later escaped; held Rev. Benjamin Weir for 16 months; seized diplomat William Buckley and he was never heard from again; kidnaped Frank Reed, director of the American University in Beirut, and held him 44 months; held Joseph Cicippio, the acting comptroller at the American University in Beirut, for five years; and abducted and murdered Col. William Higgins, the American chief of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization.

April 18, 1983 — A truck-bomb exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 employees, including the CIA’s Middle East director, and wounding 120.

Oct. 23, 1983 — A truck loaded with a bomb crashed into the lobby of the U.S. Marines headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 soldiers and wounding 81.

April 12, 1984 — Hezbollah bombed a restaurant near a U.S. Air Force base in Torrejon, Spain, killing 18 servicemen and wounding 83 people.

September 20, 1984 — A suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in East Beirut killed 23 people and injured 21.

December 4, 1984 — Hezbollah terrorists hijacked a Kuwait Airlines plane and murdered American passengers Charles Hegna and William Stanford.

June 14, 1985 — Hezbollah members hijacked a TWA flight and murdered Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver.

Most of these attacks were some time ago, so the United States is long overdue in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

At the time, I believed the United States needed to use all its diplomatic and economic leverage to pressure Syria to withdraw its troops and then give the Lebanese government an ultimatum: Disarm Hezbollah or the United States would do it for them. The task was complicated by the support for Hezbollah in the Arab world, where it was considered a resistance movement rather than a terrorist organization.

Conditions have changed dramatically, however, and the United States is in a much better position to achieve the goal of eliminating Hezbollah. First, the Syrians were forced to leave Lebanon because of international pressure. Second, Syria is the only Arab country that now supports Hezbollah. Third, and most important, most Lebanese now want to be rid of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has created a state within the state and prevents the government from exercising authority over its own territory. Hezbollah’s goal of creating an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in Lebanon conflicts with the population’s desire for a democratic government that protects the rights of the different religious factions in the country. The public also knows that it would have nothing to fear from Israel if Hezbollah were not constantly provoking the Israelis by attacking soldiers and civilians across the border.

Now that Israel has taken military action, the United States does not have to mount an Afghan-type operation to root out Hezbollah; we need only give Israel the time to do the job for us. In addition to supporting Israel, the United States should rally the international community to use sanctions and any other measures necessary to prevent Syria and Iran from providing any funding or weapons to Hezbollah.

If Israel is allowed to destroy Hezbollah, the next step will be to provide an international force or other support to the Lebanese Army to allow it to deploy along the border with Israel. The captured Israeli soldiers must also be released unharmed.

The defeat of Hezbollah will be a major victory for Israel, the United States and democracy. For the first time in decades, the Lebanese will be free to determine their own fate. Iran will be handed a significant setback in its effort to spread radical Islam, terrorize its enemies and destabilize the region. Since Israel has never had any territorial ambitions in Lebanon or any conflict with the Lebanese people, the potential for negotiating a peace agreement would also be dramatically increased.

This could be a decisive moment in Middle East history, but the outcome depends on doing the job that we failed to do in 2002. Pressure is already being put on Israel and the United States to allow Hezbollah to remain in place with its weapons intact. We’re told that America must launch a diplomatic initiative, which is clearly aimed at stopping Israel and not disarming Hezbollah. The president must resist the pressure.

Hezbollah has made no secret of its objective to destroy Israel. This is non-negotiable. Similarly, the destruction of Hezbollah should be non-negotiable.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the Director of the Jewish Virtual Library.

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