How Israel Should Respond to Hezbollah Now*

By Frederic C. Hof, CEO, AALC Ltd.; and former Chief of Staff of the Sharm el-Sheikh (Mitchell) Fact-Finding Committee

* These remarks are adapted from a speech Mr. Hof gave on a recent Lebanon-Israel panel in Turkey

Lebanon has the form of a state.  It has the appearance of a state.  It has a government.  It has a seat in the UN General Assembly.  But there is no state.  Lebanon is not a failed state.  It is a non-state.  It is a fragment of the late Ottoman Empire missing one essential piece: it has no sultan, a role provided by Syria for 15 years and more.

For many Lebanese Shiites – and together they account for at least 40 percent of Lebanon’s population – Hezbollah is the de facto state.  It is not a state-within-a-state.  It is a state within a non-state.  For virtually all members and supporters of Hezbollah, the organization is a purely Lebanese entity that protects them, represents them and provides essential social services to them.  Even Lebanese who take a dim view of Hezbollah do not consider it to be a terrorist organization.

Hezbollah’s leadership has interests that transcend Lebanon.  Hassan Nasrallah and his top leadership cadre are trusted colleagues of the clerical political elite in Iran.  He is a respected colleague of the Supreme Leader in Tehran.  He built an impressive inventory of missiles, rockets and mortars not to defend his people from other Lebanese and certainly not to liberate Palestine, but to deter Israel from attacking Iran.  To his Lebanese followers, however, Hassan Nasrallah – while never denying the Iranian connection or the Iranian money financing his social welfare network – has always characterized his arsenal in terms of defending Lebanon from Israel, whose forces in fact left Lebanon entirely in May 2000.

Hezbollah’s arms are essential to Nasrallah’s service to the Iranian Islamic revolution.  In order to justify these arms and claim the status of a resistance organization, Hezbollah – with the help of Syria and its supporters in Lebanese intelligence – invented the Shebaa farms claim in mid-2000.  While Seyed Hassan has other issues with Israel – most notably prisoners – it is the Lebanese claim to a tiny slice of the Golan Heights that gives Hezbollah its ongoing status as a resistance organization and its right to bear arms in accordance with the Ta’if Agreement.  For six years – but especially in the wake of UNSCR 1559 passed in September 2004 – Hassan Nasrallah has lived in fear that someone, somehow, would deliver the 25 square kilometer Shebaa farms strip to Lebanon. 

Hezbollah’s center of gravity is the population in which it is embedded.  Thus, the destruction of the organization’s military capability would of necessity requiring an alarming level of noncombatant casualties and dislocation.  As we saw, even a more modest effort to degrade Hezbollah’s military capabilities entailed the near destruction of Beirut’s southern suburbs.  Moreover, the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure does not appear to have had the effect of uniting Lebanese at Hezbollah’s expense; quite the opposite. 

Although Hezbollah is being hailed as the victor in Iran and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, it may yet be possible for Israel to salvage something of value and for Lebanon to take a step toward statehood if Israel begins to think and act strategically.  The first requirement is for Israel to interact positively, politely and respectfully with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).  The expansion of UNIFIL is proving extremely problematical, potentially leaving the LAF in a much more important position than initially anticipated.  Israel, should, in my view, consider aiming for a package deal short of a peace treaty focusing on the following elements: restoration of the 1949 General Armistice Agreement with amendments; a full exchange of prisoners through a revived Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission; the ceding to Lebanon of the Shebaa farms following a Syrian-Lebanese delineation registered with the UN; the internationally supervised collection/neutralization of all Hezbollah heavy weapons; and a formal declaration by the Government of Lebanon that the “resistance” is terminated.

Finally, Hezbollah’s leadership will actively try to obstruct all efforts to remove its resistance pretensions.  Over time it will try to reestablish itself along the blue line, rebuild its military capabilities and continue to use the Shebaa farms as a friction point – in the future probably avoiding raids and rocket attacks elsewhere along the border, where its constituents are now returning and rebuilding.  Lebanon’s prime minister and most of his cabinet have a strong interest in minimizing Hezbollah’s presence south of the Litani River, an interest Israel shares. 

A decade from now this border could be as tranquil as it was from 1949 to June 1967, when it was essentially unfenced and unguarded.  On the other hand, ten years from now we could be seeing round ten of what began when active hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah commenced.  I think I could tell you for sure which vision will become reality if you can tell me the overall state of the Arab-Israeli conflict – including its Israeli-Syrian dimension – in 2016. 

So long as this conflict roils the region, Lebanese statehood and Israeli security will be elusive at best.

Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon

One Comment on “How Israel Should Respond to Hezbollah Now*”

  1. wael Says:

    wael al sayed
    akbar machkalgi bil manit2a
    badi nick imo la hassan nasrallah matrah mahiyeh
    kiss imo bi ras ayri la a2oual carmouta
    abou lahab

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