Monday, July 24, 2006

USA, 2003: Hezbollah is the A Team, Al Qaeda the B Team...

This is an extract of a research done by Daniel Byman in end of2003. Daniel Byman is an Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. His research on Hezbullah, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, clearly shows the American planning that was ongoing on the Lebanese group. However, the favorite strategy highlighted in this research, which was to use Syria as a means to disarm Hezbollah, disintegrated when Syria and its army was ejected from Lebanon in April 2005.

THE A TEAM

On September 20, 2001, in a historic speech to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush famously declared, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." Few terrorist organizations meet this standard, but Hezbollah is definitely one of them. The Lebanon-based group has cells on every continent, and its highly skilled operatives have committed horrifying attacks as far away as Argentina. Before September 11, 2001, it was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization. Hassan Nasrallah, the group's secretary-general, recently proclaimed, "Death to America was, is, and will stay our slogan." Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000, Hezbollah has armed and trained Palestinian terrorists, further fraying the already tattered peace process. Hezbollah operatives have reportedly traveled to postwar Iraq to rekindle historic ties with Iraqi Shi'ites.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many in the United States have argued that Hezbollah should be the next target in the war on terror. Shortly after September 11, a group of leading scholars, pundits, and former government officials, including William Kristol and Richard Perle, declared in an open letter to President Bush that "any war on terrorism must target Hezbollah" and urged that military action be considered against the movement's state sponsors, Syria and Iran. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has warned of Hezbollah's lethality, noting that "Hezbollah may be the A team of terrorists," while "al Qaeda is actually the B team."

Given the organization's record of bloodshed and hostility, the question is not whether Hezbollah should be stopped; it is how. A campaign against it similar to the U.S. effort against al Qaeda -- killing the group's leaders and ending its haven in Lebanon -- would probably fail and might even backfire. Syria and Iran openly support it, and much of the Arab world regards it as heroic, for its successful resistance against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (the only time that Arab arms have forced Israel to surrender territory), and legitimate, because of its participation in Lebanese parliamentary politics. Even officials in France, Canada, and other Western nations have acknowledged the value of its social and political projects.

To have any chance of success, a U.S. military operation would have to involve a sustained counterinsurgency campaign -- something that Israel tried for 20 years, only to find that its efforts strengthened Hezbollah's resolve and increased its local and regional appeal. In response to a U.S. attack, Hezbollah might activate its cells in Asia, Europe, and Latin America -- and possibly in the United States itself. The United States, furthermore, is today in a far worse position militarily and diplomatically than it was before the war in Iraq. Occupying Iraq is tough enough; a fight in the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon, would only make things worse.

The upshot is that although Washington should indeed confront Hezbollah, it should do so indirectly. However morally justified an all-out attack would be, reducing Hezbollah's terrorist activity requires avoiding the temptation to overreach. Instead, Washington must apply pressure through Syria and Iran. Only Damascus has the necessary intelligence assets and force on the ground in Lebanon to shut down Hezbollah's militant activities. The right combination of carrots and sticks would lead Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crack down on his erstwhile proxy. Pressure on Iran, meanwhile, would help cut off Hezbollah's global network and might persuade it to focus on Lebanese politics rather than anti-American violence. Although convincing a hissing Damascus and a fractured Tehran to cooperate will be difficult, such a strategy is more prudent than launching a doomed direct confrontation that would further inflame anti-Americanism. With skill, Washington can transform Hezbollah into just one more Lebanese political faction -- one that continues to be hostile but no longer poses a major threat to the United States and its interests.
(Full Article can be found here: http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20031101faessay82606-p0/daniel-byman/should-hezbollah-be-next.html )

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