Hezbol­lah’s power play

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

There are four ma­jor goals be­hind Hezbol­lah’s re­cent dis­play of raw mil­i­tary power in Le­banon, in which at least scores of peo­ple have been killed. First, there was the Shi’ite ter­ror group’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to settle do­mes­tic Le­banese po­lit­i­cal scores with its en­e­mies, in par­tic­u­lar Sunni Prime Min­is­ter Fouad Sin­iora, and Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party chief Walid Jum­blatt. The sec­ond is to give Iran and Syria more mil­i­tary op­tions in their strug­gle with Is­rael. The third is to em­bar­rass the United States — in par­tic­u­lar Pres­i­dent Bush, who this week is visit­ing the Mideast. The fourth ob­jec­tive is to in­tim­i­date and em­bar­rass rel­a­tively mod­er­ate Arab na­tions with ties to the United States like Jor­dan, Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia. In ef­fect, Hezbol­lah has staged a de facto coup, mak­ing it — and by ex­ten­sion its sup- porters in Tehran and Da­m­as­cus — the dom­i­nant force in Le­banon.

Two weeks ago, the Le­banese cabi­net can­celled a se­ries of May 8 de­ci­sions that Hezbol­lah ob­jected to when it block­aded the Beirut Air­port and took up arms against the gov­ern­ment. Specif­i­cally, Beirut had de­cided to ro­tate Brig. Gen. Wafiq Chou­cair, a Hezbol­lah sym­pa­thizer and Le­banese armed forces of­fi­cer in charge of the air­port, to a new po­si­tion. Also, fear­ful that Hezbol­lah was pre­par­ing to drag Le­banon into an­other war with Is­rael, the gov­ern­ment de­clared “il­le­gal” a Hezbol­lah mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work that ex­tended to the heart of Beirut. But, in the wake of Hezbol­lah’s strate­gic blitzkrieg against its fel­low Le­banese, the Beirut gov­ern­ment on May 17 de­cided to can­cel the or­ders.

The events in Le­banon are a blow to the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign pol­icy cred­i­bil­ity. The Le­banese mil­i­tary, which stood on the side­lines as Hezbol­lah went on its ram­page, has re­ceived nearly $250 mil­lion in as­sis­tance from the United States since 2006. Pres­i­dent Bush met May 18 with Mr. Sin­iora in Egypt. We have heard plenty of tough talk from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion about the malev­o­lence of Iran and Syria. But it is highly doubt­ful that any­thing can be done in the short term to re­verse the Hezbol­lah coup that has just taken place or the fact that it gives Hezbol­lah free reign in north­ern and east­ern Le­banon.

The U.N. In­terim Force in Le­banon is de­ployed south of the Li­tani River. To cir­cum­vent this, Hezbol­lah has been re­build­ing a se­ries of mil­i­tary bases and tun­nels north of the river since the 2006 war with Is­rael. Its ex­panded pres­ence there pro­vides it with the op­por­tu­nity to set up an ex­panded north­ern con­fronta­tion front against Is­rael. It sends a mes­sage aimed at de­ter­ring both the United States and Is­rael against tak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion against Ira­nian weapons fa­cil­i­ties — should they do so, Tehran and its al­lies would be able to tar­get Is­rael from bases in Le­banon.

Hezbol­lah’s vic­tory is also an em­bar­rass­ment to the Arab League, and in par­tic­u­lar, the Saudis. Riyadh was re­port­edly in­volved in fi­nanc­ing Sunni mili­tias in Beirut that were sup­posed to be able to com­bat Hezbol­lah mil­i­tar­ily; but the Sun­nis were routed by Hezbol­lah. Right now, the Arab League is en­gaged in try­ing to “me­di­ate” be­tween Hezbol­lah and the Le­banese gov­ern­ment — which is a very diplo­matic eu­phemism for es­tab­lish­ing the terms of Beirut’s sur­ren­der to Hezbol­lah.

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