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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lebanon, Hezbullah and Iranian nuclear weapons

Michael Totten travels to Lebanon again and interviews Salim al-Sayegh, the Kataeb (Phalangist) party Vice President. At one time, the Phalangists were Israel's allies in Lebanon, but today it sounds like they're just trying to survive (Hat Tip: Instapundit). Al-Sayegh makes three points regarding Israel.

First, he claims that if only, Syria would renounce its claims to Sheba Farms (Mount Dov), Israel would hand it over to the United Nations, which would in turn hand it over to Lebanon. Al-Sayegh argues that would undermine the reason for Hezbullah's existence as a 'resistance movement.' Totten tries to nudge al-Sayegh in the direction of admitting that when Israel withdrew from Lebanon to the 'blue line' in 2000, Israel, Lebanon and the United Nations all agreed that Israel had complied with UN Security Council Resolution 425 and that there was nothing more that needed to be done.
MJT: If I remember correctly, when the Israelis left South Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah agreed that Israel had completely withdrawn to its side of the Blue Line. Only after the United Nations certified the Israeli withdrawal did Hezbollah claim Shebaa Farms was Lebanese territory under Israeli occupation. If this were true, why wouldn't Hezbollah say so in 2000 when they were negotiating with Israel over the troop withdrawal?

Salim al-Sayegh: The Israelis took Shebaa Farms from the Syrians, not from the Lebanese. The Israelis are saying they can give it to Syria. And the Syrians are saying Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. The United Nations says, according to our cards, Shebaa Farms is Syrian, not Lebanese.

MJT: It looks to me like Syria is being difficult on Shebaa Farms because Assad wants the issue to remain unresolved.

Salim al-Sayegh: Yes. Because if Syria cooperates, the next day Israel will put the Shebaa Farms under United Nations control. The next day. This would mean the end of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon because they would have no more territory to liberate.

MJT: Would it really be the end, though? They would still have their weapons.

Salim al-Sayegh: They would have no more justification. They would lose their legitimacy. They’re using this as a pretext. They’re afraid Israel will do this and withdraw. The Syrians are promising Hezbollah they won't let them down.

If the Shebaa Farms is handed over from Syria through Israel to Lebanon, or through the United Nations to Lebanon, Lebanon will have no problem with Israel.
Al-Sayegh is either being naive or disingenuous. First, Assad won't just waive his claims to Sheba Farms because if he's going to resolve anything he wants to resolve everything. In his mind, it means that he wants the entire Golan Heights. And if giving up Israel's advance warning system at Sheba Farms would be a major sacrifice for this country, giving up the Golan - even for 'real peace' with Syria (which has not been offered) - would be suicidal. There is almost no support for it here.

Second, as Totten tries to push al-Sayegh to admit, the entire issues of Sheba Farms was manufactured by Hezbullah to justify its existence after 2000. No one had heard of Sheba Farms before then. And if Sheba Farms is ever resolved, Hezbullah already has the next excuse to justify its continued existence as a resistance movement against Israel lined up: The seven 'lost villages.'

Hezbullah is not going anywhere. 'Resistance' has become an end in and unto itself.

Totten goes on to ask al-Sayegh why Lebanon does not just negotiate directly with Israel, and al-Sayegh responds in essence that they would be killed for even suggesting that Lebanon should do so. Al-Sayegh is ignoring a problem: Lebanon's government lacks the willingness to bring Hezbullah under control. No country can exist with more than one authority. Israel is not going to do Lebanon's police work for it and Lebanon cannot shirk responsibility for what Hezbullah does within its territory. Lebanon will never know peace until it has the courage to stand up and take control of its country. And of course, that's not going to happen, because as we all know, much of the Lebanese Armed Forces are Shia and will not fight Hezbullah. I feel sorry for al-Sayegh on that score, but that's his problem - not mine.

The second issue that al-Sayegh discusses that relates to Israel is how to respond to Iran. Al-Sayegh wants someone to remove Iran's nuclear weapons capability. But he believes that Israel doing so would be a 'catastrophe.' Al-Sayegh needs to answer two questions: If Israel does not remove Iran's nuclear capability, whom does he believe will do so? And second, which does he believe would be worse, a nuclear Iran or an Iran whose nuclear weapons capability was destroyed by Israel. It seems obvious to me that a nuclear Iran would be worse, and al-Sayegh nearly acknowledges as much:
Salim al-Sayegh: ... Iran is the main show. Would Israel accept Iranian nuclear capacity? How do you engage Iran? If you cut the hand of Iran through an Israeli operation, you won’t cut the head of Iran. You need to cut the head. So the containment of Iran should continue, but at the same time there should be no idea like what the French are stupidly thinking right now, that can Iran get the bomb, that we know how to use deterrence.

We're not talking about deterrence here. We talk about deterrence when people think in terms of a balance of power. Those people do not evaluate power the same way you do. They're willing to lose a million people in a war against Iraq. They attacked Iraqi tanks with Kalashnikovs. Okay? Nobody ever imagined that they could resist an Iraqi attack. They reversed the tide. They countered it.

If Iran has a nuclear bomb in a year or two, Iran will say to the Islamic world "I have five bombs, guys. I have five missiles. Now I have the capacity to destroy Israel. Now I have the capacity to say justice should be made. So far the corrupt West has used us, abused us, and defended the existence of Israel with hundreds of nuclear bombs."

I don't care about repercussions for Israel. It isn't my problem. My problem is that the center of gravity in the Islamic world will shift from Saudi Arabia and Cairo to Tehran. Imagine after two years what paradigm we might have in front of us.

Tell the French we are not talking about realpolitik here. We’re not talking about a balance of power. Look at what is behind the bomb. Iran is not the Soviet Union. It is not China. We are talking about the Koran, Velayat-e Faqih, and the umma.

These guys will really be using their muscles everywhere. And I don't mean the military. They don’t need the military. They will just say "Listen, guys. We have the initiative. And everybody will bow before the Iranians." You see our problem.

The most urgent thing is that Hezbollah is a threat now. It should be treated now. We should not wait. The Iranian nuclear bomb should be dealt with this year.

MJT: How? The United States is not going to go to war with Iran over nuclear weapons.

Salim al-Sayegh: No? [Sigh.]

MJT: That’s the reality. After Iraq, after years of fighting in Iraq, nobody wants more of that. So unless Israel does something… [The funny characters are in the original and I hesitate to touch them because I'm not sure what they're supposed to say. CiJ]

Salim al-Sayegh: No. If the Israelis do something, it will be catastrophic.

MJT: If Israel attacks Iran and Hezbollah attacks Israel, Israel is going to attack Lebanon.

Salim al-Sayegh: This is why Israel should not be left alone. It is a global issue. We are talking here about a global issue. We have religion in this part of the world. It’s not like Korea. Here, every square meter has meaning. We have the Koran, the Bible, and the Torah. Miami and New York will be shaken if Israel is threatened. If Iran is threatened, people from Morocco to Pakistan will be in the streets threatening.

This is why we need a sophisticated approach to Iran and its capacity to damage Israel. I don't care about the security of Israel. What I care about is the stability of the region and creating a just peace in the region.

I would not like to be Obama. His options are very limited. And de-linking Syria from Iran is not one of them. It’s just a temporary solution. Syria is not going to be against Iran. And Hezbollah will always side with Iran.

How can we get rid of Hezbollah politically? They will not unilaterally disarm. If we absorb them into the state, the state will become Hezbollah. I’ll be taking from my right pocket and putting in my left pocket. It’s the same. The state that would disarm Hezbollah is the same state that Hezbollah partly controls. It’s absurd. It’s not a Lebanese problem. It's an international community problem.

Hezbollah is a kind of a safety net for Tehran. "If you touch me, I will destroy Israel with missiles." Syria might cooperate today, but in a year or two Assad will side with Hezbollah if the politics change. And I’m not sure Syria wants to come in to fight Hezbollah, to really control Hezbollah. So the threat will remain. The options really are limited.

The French believe that the Iranian problem is not serious because Iran can be tamed with deterrence. But I believe, and I would love Americans to believe, that Iran with the bomb is very dangerous. And any de-linking without taking into consideration the bomb is illusionary.

I know what the international community should not do. They should not be soft with Syria. They should push Syria to combine negotiations with Israel with a change of conduct of the regime.

We are in a deadlock. If you have any idea how we can break the deadlock, that would be great. But so far we are trying to do it gradually, politically. We are not able to protect ourselves in the long term. If Washington is not, how can we?
And (elsewhere in the interview) he accuses Israel of not having political vision? His entire argument is centered on protecting Lebanon and not on protecting the region. He is living in a dream world where the United States is going to come and bomb Iran back to the 8th century and get rid of their nuclear capacity. What if that doesn't happen (as seems likely)? What does he suggest? Would he really rather see a nuclear Iran than an Iran whose nuclear weapons capability is destroyed by Israel?

The third issue that al-Sayegh discusses that relates to Israel is the 'Palestinian refugees' that make up 10% of Lebanon's population (no, I never knew it was that high a percentage either). Al-Sayegh claims that the 'international community' has to be part of the solution.
Salim al-Sayegh: The problem of Hezbollah is the same as the problem of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It is the same impossible question. You’re asking Lebanese: "How are you going to handle the Palestinian refugees?" Palestinians are about ten percent of the population of Lebanon. Ten percent of the population lives at a very low standard, very low. The international community has a major responsibility in solving the issue of the Palestinian refugees.
The 'international community' didn't create the 'refugee' problem although it has done more than its share to perpetuate it by coddling the Arab states and not making them live up to the consequences of their own actions. Al-Sayegh doesn't propose a solution. I will propose one. Suppose that the 'international community' makes a one-time payment in some reasonable amount (let's say $10,000 or less per identifiable 'refugee' living in Lebanon) to Lebanon in return for which Lebanon grants the 'refugees' full citizenship and rights, including a Lebanese passport and the right to vote. Sound reasonable?

60 years is an awfully long time to have people living in your 'democratic' country without any rights. In fact, I would say that it's unprecedented. And it's time to put a stop to holding these people hostage in the unrealistic hope that they will some day overrun Israel and 'return' to their 'previous homes' there. We're on the fourth generation already. Most of these people have never even seen where their great-grandparents used to live. Enough is enough already.

Read the whole thing. As always with Totten, the pictures are gorgeous (the only one I lifted from him is the top one in this post - I couldn't find another picture of al-Sayegh on the web).


At 8:21 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Its possible the Christian Arabs in Lebanon would have made peace with Israel. They are no longer a majority in Lebanon. The chance of a Shia majority Lebanon making peace with Israel so long as Hezbollah exists is none.

At 12:48 AM, Blogger Chrysler 300M said...

Lebanese, any religion, ethnicity, form or shape are never to be trusted


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