Friday, October 24, 2008

WINEP: The View from the United States

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy presents a 3-part series examining the status quo along the Lebanese-Israeli border two years after the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1701.

Below is an abridged version of the third article in the series, written by Michael Singh, detailing the "view from the U.S.", and published on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon on October 23, 1983. [Also check the first and second articles.]

[Regular readers of this blog will find that a great majority of the positions and recommendations expressed in this article reflect views voiced here, and all across Lebanon, by those seeking to build a just, representative, and viable Lebanese state.]
Two years after the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war, it is tempting to view another conflict as inevitable ... There is, however, cause for hope -- Lebanon's pro-sovereignty leaders have proven courageous and resilient, and the international community has committed significant resources to the country's institutions.

Background

...Almost from the start of the ... [July War] conflict, it was clear that the international effort to end it would have to address not only the fighting on the ground but also the dangerous dynamics that had allowed Hizballah to draw the region to the brink of a wider conflagration. The product of this effort was Resolution 1701, which delineated three principles -- no foreign forces, no weapons for nongovernmental militias, and no independent authority separate from the central government -- as vital to a lasting Lebanese peace. Underlying these principles was the recognition that while the flow of arms to terrorist groups like Hizballah is the most immediate threat to stability in Lebanon, the true key to long-term peace is an empowered and capable central government in Beirut.

Strengthening the Lebanese Government

The UN resolution's most basic objective, a ceasefire, was quickly achieved ... More difficult was dealing with the domestic ramifications of the conflict in Lebanon -- Hizballah was emboldened and ... Their ensuing struggle for power culminated in May 2008 in a bloody street battle that claimed sixty-five lives, eventually leading to Hizballah's temporary occupation of Beirut.

In the Doha Agreement that followed, Hizballah gained new political power, albeit at the cost of credibility lost in turning its weapons against its own people. The pro-sovereignty forces, on the other hand, made painful concessions to the opposition but in many respects stood their ground and even made gains by electing a president, forming a government, and promulgating a strong cabinet statement. The true test of their strength will be in how President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora handle ongoing discussions of Hizballah's arms, and how the majority fares in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The Challenge of Hizballah

The violence in May 2008 underscored one of the premises of Resolution 1701: that any gains made by the Lebanese government could easily be countered by Hizballah with massive military force. Resolution 1701 sought to constrain Hizballah's military capability by securing Lebanon's eastern border, thus limiting both the flow of arms and the ambitions of Iran and Syria...

...Arms smuggling and an emboldened Hizballah pose a threat to the region that is difficult to overstate. As a vanguard for Tehran, Hizballah frustrates progress on regional peace and stability and acts as a proxy through which Iran can operate without risking direct retaliation. This strategy holds true not only in the Levant, but also throughout the Middle East -- such as Hizballah's training of Iraqi Shiite militants -- and as far away as South America, where Hizballah agents engage in terrorist financing and other activities. Compounding the problem, the Iran-Syria arms pipeline supplies al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Palestinian refugee camps, as well as other Syrian proxies in the region.

Next Steps

Two years after the summer 2006 war, the need for full and effective enforcement of Resolution 1701 remains urgent...

...In the short term, it is critical to stop the flow of arms to the militias that hold Lebanon hostage. To this end, any further European moves to revive EU-Syria relations should stipulate that Damascus cooperate in ending the flow of arms into Lebanon. The EU should also emulate the British government's recent designation of Hizballah as a terrorist organization. In addition, the international community and Lebanon's regional partners should take meaningful action to secure the Lebanese-Syrian border, or Siniora should charge UNIFIL with that mission under the authority provided him by Resolution 1701. Finally, measures to stop the arms before they arrive at the border should be examined in earnest.

The long-term challenge for Lebanon's allies will be to strengthen the Lebanese state by increasing military, diplomatic, and economic assistance to Beirut. The Lebanese government, in turn, can demonstrate its authority by continuing to address the country's security challenges and wresting control of the Lebanon-Israel relationship from Hizballah and Iran by taking up Israel's offer of bilateral talks. Hizballah and its allies may criticize such a move, but Suleiman could justify the talks by pointing to the peace deals and ongoing talks between Israel and its other neighbors.

For its part, Israel should recognize that effective implementation of Resolution 1701 requires strong Lebanese civic and security institutions. Israeli leaders should see the Lebanese government as a partner and refrain from actions that indirectly benefit those seeking to undermine it, such as Hizballah.

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