Hezbollah Ready to Lock and Load
I always find it fascinating when realistic scholars write articles in major publications, particularly when the article is based on a long-running problem of regional (or international) concern. Equally fascinating is the tendency of some realists to water-down the significance and complexity of the problem, thereby making their judgments more reliable and their conclusions more logical and accepting to the public.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. If you want to experience this trend in person, all you have to do is pick up a national newspaper- such as the New York Times or the Washington Post- and you will most-likely find such an article on the first page of the editorial section. Or you could simply log on to the internet, do a simple Google search, and glance through a few news websites.
I mention this because I did the same exact thing a few days ago, eventually finding my way to a prominent source in the IR business today: foreignaffairs.com.
The topic that I was most drawn to was nothing other than a piece about the Hezbollah Movement in Lebanon, written by Steven Simon (a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) and Jonathan Stevenson (a Professor of Strategic Studies at the U.S. Naval War College).
Without going into specifics (and by the way, if you want the specifics, just click this link), Simon and Stevenson’s argument is a perfect example of the type of watered-down jargon that all too often categorizes the nation’s editorials. The thesis went something like this; the U.S. should open dialogue with Hezbollah because they are 1) increasingly demonstrating their independence by distancing themselves from Iran and Syria, and 2) willing to trade their powerful guns for electoral support from the Lebanese population.
In other words, an American-led diplomatic campaign to demilitarize (or decommission) Hezbollah is easier than most people in the U.S. Government think.
Now down to the nitty-gritty.
There is no question that a decommissioning process would be beneficial for every party involved. For the United States, a peaceful Hezbollah would provide Washington with some more leverage over the Iranian nuclear issue; for Israel, security in its immediate neighborhood would be enhanced; and for Lebanon, the lingering cloud of armed conflict or civil war would evaporate rather quickly. Hezbollah would also have much to gain from successful negotiations. By trading their weapons for ballots, Hezbollah would undoubtedly improve their national image both in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East.
But despite all of these positive scenarios, we have to consider what Hezbollah would lose as a result. From the standpoint of cost-benefit analysis, demilitarization appears to have more immediate consequences for the Hezbollah movement than long-term gains.
Currently, Hezbollah has overwhelming control of Southern Lebanon. This is not only important from a geographical perspective, but from a strategic outlook as well. By residing so close to Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah possesses a sturdy check on Israeli power. Hezbollah rockets are relatively close to major Israeli cities, a reality that forces Israel to think twice before it engages in aggressive behavior. Destroying or handing over these weapons would quickly eliminate the power of deterrence that Hezbollah wishes to portray to the Israelis. In fact, passively giving weapons away could threaten Hezbollah’s entire existence. Who is to say that the Israeli Government would not use the opportunity to deal a fatal blow to the Islamic organization?
Taking the past year into account, there is no evidence to my knowledge that supports the view that Hezbollah is willing to sacrifice guns for votes. Reality on the ground debunks the decommissioning argument. Weapons shipments from Iran and Syria continue to arm Hezbollah to the teeth, despite Simon and Stevenson’s claim that Hezbollah militants are distancing themselves from both states. Some sources estimate that Hezbollah now has 3X as many rockets and missiles (with longer distances and smoother flight paths) than before the 2006 war with Israel.
And what about Israel’s recent assertion that Hezbollah is planting Syrian and Iranian-made bombs around the Israeli border (yes, this is a story…http://www.newmediajournal.us/terrorism/01122010.htm)?
Now just because Hezbollah is rearming does not necessarily mean it wants to strike Israel in the near future. Rockets, guns, and ammunition also provides Hezbollah with a significant political deterrent against rivals in the Lebanese Government. Without a viable weapons stockpile, I highly doubt that Hezbollah would have much of a say in Lebanon’s current parliament. We have to remember that it was Hezbollah’s overwhelming military superiority that gave them political opportunity in the first place (a.k.a. the takeover of Beirut).
But regardless of motivation, all of Hezbollah’s actions during the past year point more towards a path of confrontation than a period of enlightenment and rapprochement.
If we want to be purely optimistic, then I guess we can support the arguments of Simon and Stevenson (two highly intellectual people by the way). But if we want to remain practical, disarming Hezbollah is still a distant fantasy.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson at ForeignAffairs.com**