August 17, 2006
Hezbollah Plays OprahBy Richard Baehr
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Hezb'allah is starting to spread the green around Southern Lebanon, offering $10,000 per family for rental assistance for a year, while clearing roads, helping reconstruct houses, feeding the returning residents and helping them with purchases of new furniture.
Had we only known of their generosity and work ethic, we could have recruited them for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts a year ago. Maybe there is still time for the group to make a guest appearance in Spike Lee's new HBO miniseries on Katrina to offer advice on handling future catastrophes.
Courtesy of Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes, we also learned this week that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is concerned about the 45 million Americans without health insurance and the two million behind bars. Who knew that we could get the same lessons on how to address our domestic problems from Iran's President and Nancy Pelosi?
Hezb'allah, of course, does not print Lebanese currency (counterfeiting American currency, however, has been one of their enterprises for years), so the money they are now spreading around is almost certainly coming from Iran. Like Oprah Winfrey giving away Pontiacs to her studio audience after Pontiac gave her the cars to give away, Hezbollah is giving out the money of its patron.
Destroy the country, then rebuild it, that's the new Iranian/Hezb'allah theme. Lebanese officials have provided a preliminary estimate of $10 billion in war damage to their country. Israel has released an estimate that government spending alone on the war exceeded $5 billion, not even counting reconstruction costs in the North, or the losses in economic activity. And finally there is Iran's weapons supply to Hezb'allah, much of it used or destroyed in the fighting, that may have cost $4 to 6 billion for Iran to provide, according to some estimates.
Sweden is now in the lead preparing a donor conference to raise money to help rebuild Lebanon. Not a penny of course will be raised for rebuilding in Israel, where a significantly higher percentage of the population was forced to live in bomb shelters or displaced than was the case in Lebanon. The nearly 4,000 rockets launched indiscriminately at civilian targets in northern Israel really are not a concern of the international community, which from the beginning viewed this as a war between Israel and Hezb'allah, with Lebanon the unfortunate victim, due to Israel's supposedly 'disproportionate' response.
We must now all take moral lessons in how to behave during war from the Swedes, who chose profitable neutrality, selling iron and other war materiel to Nazi Germany, rather than joining the Allies to fight them during World War II.
The real purpose of the Hezb'allah rebuilding effort has, I think, little to do with either guilt for what their war with Israel wrought in southern Lebanon, or any earnest desire to help their neighbors. Shiites are the primary group in southern Lebanon, and Hezb'allah has metastasized among them for decades. By providing the public services that the Lebanese government is unable to, Hezb'allah becomes the de facto functioning government. The idea that they will depart southern Lebanon and surrender their arms is a ridiculous proposition. Hezb'allah and Nasrallah now speak with far more authority (and power) in the country than any official Lebanese government representative.
There were conflicting reports in the last day as to whether France had decided not to provide any additional troops for an expanded UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon unless Hezb'allah were first disarmed in the area below the Litani River. So far, only Indonesia and Morocco have offered troops without the disarmament requirement, and Israel has expressed concerns about any force with soldiers from countries that do not recognize it. The Lebanese Army, which may be half Shiite, is starting to move south already, but it has no ability, nor the will to take on Hezb'allah.
So we are approaching, I think, the first of a series of tripwires that are almost certain to lead to renewed fighting.
From the perspective of Hezb'allah, Israeli forces are now in an impossible position. Since the IDF are now in southern Lebanon, they are viewed in Lebanon as occupiers. That justifies the continued 'resistance' of Hezb'allah to foreign occupation of the country. No longer does Hezb'allah need the Shebaa Farms distraction to justify its resistance to occupation, and its need for weapons.
Since Hezb'allah will not disarm itself, and the Lebanese army will not disarm it, no expanded international force will arrive, since they do not have the stomach to take on Hezb'allah themselves. But with the Lebanese army moving south, they, along with Hezb'allah and the local residents, will all be part of the crossfire if a Hezb'allah attack sets off more fighting, including an Israeli response.
We have already had rockets fired by Hezb'allah at Israeli positions in Lebanon since the cease fire. While this uneasy truce still exists for now, weapons are pouring into Syria from Iran to replenish the stocks of Hezb'allah for the inevitable next round of fighting. With oil at $75 a barrel, Iran has little need to worry about the costs of its effort to dominate Lebanon and Iraq, and increasingly the Palestinian terror groups.
One can hope that Israel will learn from this initial month—long battle, and its strategy will be more consistent and decisive next time. Of course, that might require different leadership. This war was not begun by Hezb'allah to secure prisoner exchanges, or to get back Shebaa Farms, but to create the kind of instability within Lebanon, in which they would prosper politically.
Just as Arafat learned during the second intifada, when you take on Israel, and 'Islamize' the conflict, you unite the Muslim world, which shares nothing so much as its hatred of Israel. So while Sunni—led Arab governments initially criticized Hezb'allah's provocation, fearing the growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, the Arab and worldwide Muslim street loved their bravado, and that they fought to a tie. The signs carried by demonstrators around the world were pretty consistent: 'We are all Hezb'allah.'
The other Hezb'allah achievement of course, was to buy some time for Iran to continue work on its nuclear program, and to change the subject in the international community from Iran to Israel. We do not know if Iran or Hezb'allah anticipated the Israeli response to the initial kidnapping and murder of its soldiers. That response, while perhaps stronger than Iran or Hezb'allah anticipated, was still not strong enough or decisive enough to succeed in forcing Hezb'allah out of southern Lebanon. Air power is not enough to destroy a dug—in terror group, with a big home field advantage.
But for Israel, the idea that it could disarm all of Hezb'allah or eliminate the group was a fantasy. That would have required an occupation of the entire country. So, to achieve more than moving Hezb'allah away from its northern border, Israel, in the end, needed some help from Lebanon or the international community. But the international community had a very different goal than Israel: stopping the fighting, not addressing the underlying problem of the existence of an independent, well—armed provocative militia group (free from control of the Lebanese government, but dependent on arms and money from Syria and Iran).
This war was a real war between players with their own goals and agenda, but also a proxy war between Iran and the West, principally of course, the United States. The US gave Israel a month to accomplish what it could on the battlefield. Normally an attacker loses far more troops than an entrenched defender. That did not happen here, and Israel took out a significant percentage of the Hezb'allah fighting force. By working on the assumption that they needed to use their rockets or lose them, Hezb'allah fired 4,000 rockets, and a few thousand more were destroyed by Israel. Hezb'allah's primary victory in the Muslim world is that it is still standing, and now can crow about its power and leadership of the fight against the Zionist entity. In the NHL, it would be an overtime win, and 3 points.
This is an unresolved conflict between Israel and Hezb'allah, and of course between the US and Iran. And it will have more fronts, and I think soon. Would Iran with nuclear weapons be acceptable to us, if the mullahs did not run the country? How can we help to accomplish a regime change before its nuclear program is completed, if in all likelihood, the best that can be accomplished even with a military strike against Iran is a delay in the program, and not its elimination? Contemplating regime change after Iran joins the nuclear club seems to be little more than wishful thinking.
Israel well understands that its war with Hezb'allah was also a war with Iran, and that the nuclear threat from Iran is an existential risk for the state. As Chairman Mao talked of trading nuclear bombs with an under—populated America and surviving such a face—off, Ahmadinejad has made the same kind of threat to Israel, a nation of 6 million, with Iranians numbering 70 million. The Iranian leader's delusions about the return of the 12th imam, and the ruling clerics' brand of Islamic doctrine, one that worships death over life when given over to martyrdom, eliminates most of the deterrent theories about how nations with nuclear weapons never use them against each other.
Herman Kahn never studied an Iran with the bomb in his nuclear scenarios. Dr. Strangelove considered nuclear war a feasible option, and accepted the results, so long as the surviving male/female ratio was suitable. Had he lived, perhaps Stanley Kubrick could have produced a modern version of Mullah Strangelove.
Comedy aside, the West's work is not nearly done, and the problems emerging from Iran, Al Qaeda, and an aggressive Islamic radicalism grow larger.
Richard Baehr is the chief political correspondent of The American Thinker.