Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Part II of the Israel-Hezbollah War

Posted in Middle East and North Africa by Dan on July 21, 2009
The U.N. Ceasefire that ended the Israel-Hezbollah War could collapse in the near future

The U.N. Ceasefire that ended the Israel-Hezbollah War could collapse in the near future

Three years ago, in the summer of 2006, Israel launched a well-coordinated yet ineffective military campaign against the Hezbollah militia in Southern Lebanon.  Israeli commanders concentrated the bulk of their air-strikes in Southern Lebanon…a particularly hostile area whose residents support Hezbollah’s armed struggle against the Jewish state.  Because the vast portion of Hezbollah’s arsenal is concentrated in the southern half of the country, the Israeli Defense Forces hoped that a major air-operation would severely damage the terrorist organizations’ ability to fire short-range rockets into Northern Israel…thereby protecting innocent Israeli citizens in the major city of Haifa.  Some evidence indicates that Hezbollah’s military capability, coupled with a ground invasion by Israeli soldiers into the heart of Beirut, would deal Hezbollah a significant blow both in Lebanon and the Middle East at large.

While the plan possessed bold and ambitious objectives, Israeli commanders were unable to degrade Hezbollah’s military might.  A large stockpile of weapons remains in Hezbollah’s possession, allowing the Islamic group to conduct military operations without punishment and ramifications.  Thanks to its unchallenged control in Southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah leadership has the ability to threaten Israel with more rockets and missiles…not to mention increasing its stranglehold over the moderate Lebanese population.  Hezbollah units remain very successful in evading Israeli intelligence, quickly adapting to Israeli counterterrorism by spreading out its men and hiding in civilian-invested cities.  Three years after the 2006 war, it is becoming much more difficult to eradicate Hezbollah’s power and influence in the Middle East: either for fear of Iranian and Syrian retaliation or a new intifada by its Hamas ally’s.

Israel’s three-week campaign not only exposed the limitations of western technology in asymmetrical warfare.  The battle also proved to be a turning point for Hezbollah’s image, enhancing the movement’s power and influence in the wider Middle East.  Hezbollah’s unique insurgency-like style, coupled with its tooth-to-nail resistance against a massive ground invasion, gave Muslims all over the world a strange feeling of hope in a world often dominated by western incursion.  Ordinary Arabs in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf began to view Hezbollah’s armed struggle in a different light.  Rather than blindly accepting the negative labels promoted by Washington, many Middle Eastern residents pledged their full support to Hezbollah’s objectives.  Iran and Syria, an alliance that routinely provides Hezbollah with information, weapons, money, and training, are now seen as two countries routinely standing up for the rights of Arabs against Israeli occupation.

Only after a ceasefire was put into effect did intelligence officials finally deem Israel’s Lebanese operation a failure.   Although righteous and necessary in its own right, Jerusalem’s decision to retaliate only strengthened the Islamists’ hand by giving them an excuse to expand their operations against Israeli civilians and soldiers alike.

As we sit here today, the ceasefire between the IDF and Hezbollah remains in effect.  The city of Beirut has slowly rebuilt its infrastructure.  The Israeli army has turned its guns away from the Hezbollah network to a closer adversary in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank….not to mention gearing up for a possible showdown with Tehran’s clerical establishment.  Hezbollah, in addition to bolstering its leverage as a powerful military force in Southern Lebanon, is transforming its movement into a more peaceful political party.

Yet, with all of these developments occurring as a direct result of the ceasefire agreement, recent actions undertaken by Hezbollah proves that hostilities may once again reignite.  Northern Israel is still regarded as a target of opportunity for Hezbollah fighters, while Lebanon remains a playground susceptible to Israeli involvement.  The U.N.-sponsored ceasefire, dubbed Resolution 1701, is more comparable to a symbolic document than an adequate effort towards peace.  Hezbollah fighters continue to ignore U.N. demands, some of which includes a complete disarmament of its military wing and an end of its forceful domination of Southern Lebanon.  Some even claim that this may be Hezbollah’s way building up its arsenal and preparing for another round of fighting.

Israeli commanders conclude that Hezbollah has almost doubled its share of short-range and long-range rockets since the 2006 war began…increasing its 14,000 rockets into an unprecedented 30,000.  Israeli intelligence officials have even stated that the Islamic militia has taken control of hundreds of anti-aircraft missiles…a result of either the Lebanese government’s ineffective campaign against the group or the U.N’s unwillingness to police what it preaches.

In perhaps the most severe and blatant violation of Resolution 1701, Syria and Iran have continued to smuggle weapons inside Lebanon in the hopes of further increasing Hezbollah’s capability against the Israeli enemy.  This is a very ironic development, considering that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has publicly promoted direct negotiations with the Israeli’s for a long-lasting peace accord.  Only Syria could master this “two-faced” behavior, endorsing compromise while continuing to harm Israel’s security interests at the same time.  As I have stated before, if Damascus was truly interested in formulating peace with its Jewish neighbor, Mr. Assad would terminate his relationship with Hezbollah: at least in the short-term.  This would not only create the time needed to accomplish any preconditions necessary for a resolution…it would also give Syria the upper-hand by showing the international community how committed it is to a comprehensive agreement.

With all the talks of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it appears that Syria (with Iranian insistence) will never abide by international protocol.  Unfortunately, the persistence of the Syrian-Hezbollah alliance does not reflect Mr. Assad’s “rogue” behavior as much as the U.N.’s inability to enforce a ceasefire.  Time in and time out, international organizations have proved that agreements are nothing but words on a piece of paper…immune to breaches and violations by the same parties that are supposed to follow their demands.  This, and only this, is the reason why the 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah is not only shaky and fragile in its own right; it is increasingly vulnerable to collapse.  Couple this with Hezbollah’s weaponry and state-sponsorship, and the realization that hostilities could once again reach a boiling point is not too far off.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from the AFP and Matti Friedman of the Associated Press contributed to this blog

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