Hezbollah’s power play
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.