Analysis: Lebanon, Hezbollah’s way

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Israeli soldiers sit on their tank along the Israeli border with Lebanon on Aug. 4, a day after clashes between the Lebanese army and Israeli army left two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist dead

By Mohamad Bazzi

Everywhere in the Middle East these days, people are muttering about the possibility of war: between Israel and Hamas, or Israel and Hezbollah, or Israel and Syria, or among bickering Lebanese factions. Or maybe this war will involve everyone.

What might set off such a catastrophic conflict? Maybe it starts with Israeli soldiers trying to trim a tree.

That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, when Lebanese troops fired on Israeli forces who were pruning a tree along the border between the two countries. That set off a series of skirmishes that killed two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and an Israeli commander.

This clash, the most serious in four years, underscores why Lebanon’s southern frontier with Israel is the most volatile border in the Middle East today, and how easily a confrontation could spiral out of control. Western policymakers must not shift their attention away from Lebanon, a small country that has long been the staging ground of proxy wars in the region.

The latest fighting did not involve Hezbollah, the Shiite political party and militia that has fought Israel for decades. But Hezbollah remains a central player in the dangerous drama that is unfolding along the Lebanese-Israeli border. When a pro-American coalition won Lebanon’s parliamentary elections last year, a seductive conventional wisdom emerged in the West: Because Hezbollah and its allies were defeated at the polls, the group would lose some of its luster and a U.S.-backed government would rule Lebanon. In fact, Hezbollah remains the country’s dominant military and political force. It holds the key to both domestic and external stability, and its actions will help determine whether there is another war with Israel, or if Lebanon will once again be wracked by internal conflict.

In November, the U.S.-backed Sunni leader Saad Hariri was chosen as prime minister after he agreed to share power with Hezbollah and its allies. But Hariri’s government has no influence over the militia and its weapons buildup along the border. As long as the Lebanese Army remains weak, Hezbollah can argue that its fighters are needed to defend the country against Israel.

When Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990, all of the country’s militias were disarmed. But the government allowed Hezbollah to keep its weapons as “national resistance” against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which continued until May 2000. After the Israelis withdrew, many Lebanese asked why the group did not disarm and become a strictly political movement. Hezbollah insisted that its mission of resistance was not over because Israel was still occupying a strip of land — called Shebaa Farms — at the murky intersection of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. (The United Nations later determined that the area is Syrian territory, not Lebanese.)

In July 2006, Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, setting off a 34-day war that crippled Lebanon’s infrastructure, displaced one million people, and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, the majority of them civilians. Since that conflict ended, both sides have been preparing for a new round. Hezbollah leaders boast that the group now has an even larger and more potent cache of missiles than it did four years ago. Israeli officials, who have also escalated their war rhetoric in recent months, estimate Hezbollah’s arsenal at between 40,000 and 80,000 rockets.

The basic problem is that Hezbollah sets its own military strategy and it makes decisions that could lead to war without the involvement of the Lebanese state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to hold the Lebanese government responsible for the militia’s actions. That puts Hariri in an extremely difficult position and it will make him reliant on the Obama administration to keep Israel at bay.

The border has flared up several times over the past year: two suspected Hezbollah weapons caches mysteriously exploded, and Al Qaeda-linked groups were blamed for two salvos of rocket fire into Israel from southern Lebanon. Under the United Nations Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war, U.N. peacekeepers are supposed to intercept illegal weapons shipments and raid storage sites south of the Litani River. They have rarely done so. While Hezbollah continues its arms buildup, Israel has also violated the U.N. resolution with frequent overflights into Lebanese airspace and by planting surveillance devices on Lebanese territory.

Neither Israel nor Hezbollah has an immediate interest in starting a war. Israel is more concerned right now about Iran, although if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Shiite militia would likely be part of the Iranian retaliation. As part of Lebanon’s new government, Hezbollah cannot afford to instigate another war with Israel. But the danger of heightened rhetoric and a military buildup is that minor incidents along the border could spiral out of control.

By engaging Israeli troops this week, the Lebanese Army was trying to assert government authority over the border. The army had not been in control of the southern border since the late 1960s, and it only deployed there after the 2006 war. But the army’s action is largely symbolic because Hezbollah effectively controls the frontier.

Still, the symbolism was not lost on Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, who quickly tried to portray the conflict with Israel as nationalist struggle in which his militia and the Lebanese Army are partners. “The army guards the resistance, and the resistance guards the army,” he said at a rally in southern Beirut on Tuesday night. “The resistance will cut off any Israeli hand that tries to harm the Lebanese Army.”

Nasrallah confirmed what most Lebanese already knew: Without a strong central state that can defend itself, Hezbollah remains the most powerful force in Lebanon — and its weapons guarantee that dominance.

Mohamad Bazzi is a journalism professor at New York University and an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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22 responses to “Analysis: Lebanon, Hezbollah’s way”

  1. American VIP humiliated at airport

    Prof. Donna Shalala, Clinton’s secretary of health, arrives in Israel in order to fight academic boycott against Israel, claims she was held at Ben-Gurion Airport just because she has Arab last name

    This is not how she imagined her visit to Israel. Prof. Donna Shalala, who served as the US Secretary of Health and Human Services for eight years under Clinton and is currently the president of the University of Miami, was held for two-and-a-half hours at Ben Gurion Airport during which she underwent a humiliating security debriefing because of her Arab last name – all this despite the fact that her hosts notified the airport ahead of time that she is a VIP.

    The fact that Shalala arrived in Israel as part of an official delegation of the heads of universities fighting against the academic boycott against the Jewish State also seemed not to help her.

    Shalala, 69, was born in the US to Lebanese immigrant parents. She is considered a true friend of Israel and has visited the country many times in the past.

  2. Sandman Avatar

    Dear Mohamad,

    Your article regurgitates what has been repeated in western media for months.

    It bewilders me that some people continue to cling to the idea that Israel waged the 2006 war over the kidnapping of 2 soliders. Why not launch a new war over the dead Lt Colonel that was sniped last week? Your arguments are void of any logic.

    You also seem to squarely blame the Lebanese Army of instigating last week’s events. Let me say this for the record: the Israelis claimed that they coordinated the tree removal with UNIFIL, I have yet to see a confirmation from UNIFIL of this fact. To me it appears from the various news sources that the UNIFIL tried to ward the Israelis who completely ignored them. The Israelis could have as easily had the UNIFIL cut the trees, that is their purpose to ace as a buffer between the IDF and LAF.

    As for HA military dominance, let me tell you something you might already know. Israeli policy is an act of self defiance. They openly and publicly whined last week that they expected the US donated weapons to the LAF be used on HA and they seem upset that they were used to keep them outside Lebanon’s borders. Now their lobbies are pushing Washington to cease military aid to the Lebanese Government. How will this Government ever exert its influence if they do not receive aid? Or is it that they only receive weapons to be used on the Lebanese but not when Israel invades.

    I am sorry to say that your expressed views in this article lack substance and rationale and are motivated by personal political views.

    I hope your next paper is much more insightful and balanced.

  3. Walid Khouri Avatar
    Walid Khouri

    Mr. Bazzi is trying to keep his job as journalism professor at New York University and an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations pleasing the ears of his Zionist colleagues at the university.

    1. Anti-zio Avatar

      Spot on Walid

    2. W, First time I see you make any sense.

  4. Tarie AL Fanarie Avatar
    Tarie AL Fanarie

    Mr. Bazzi is telling it the way its. I don’t see here he’s blaming the LAF. I am not defending israel either but how did an LAF sniper got ready and shot at someone with midst of all quick shooting? Don’t you guys this was the start of the fight? There was no way the israeli officer would be wide open for getting killed if the israelis started shooting at the LAF? Again the order came from high ranking officers who is very close with hezbollah.. Hezbollah do not care about starting a fight or few soldiers getting killed if it helps to get their point across and further their cause and divert attentions from the Tribunal. Heck israeli been kidnapping sheppards and sheeps. Are the trees more valuable than the shepards? Do you know earlier in the week Velyati from Iran visited the south and went near the israeli lebanese border. this guy is head of the intelligence in Iran. he met with hezbollah represantatives and none with any lebanese gov’t officials. Is it that disprectful to our govt coming from him and hezbollah side? Doesn’t it seem that hezbollah is acting as the gov’t here? is ok for someone who’s gov’t is encouranging war between lebanon and israel allowed to go to sensitive area and the govt dared to say nothing? yet americans check borders and hezbollah up in arms about it. this was also coordinated with Beirut? and according to them it was a routine visit. But hezbollah was up in arms about it. Why do want to ignore the facts about these things. And Sandman israel gave lebanon plenty of warnings in 2006 for hezbollah to give up the soldiers and hand them over to red cross. Hezbollah refused and israel threatened over and over again that they will bomb lebanon and hezbollah refused. And also who attacked israeli soldiers in the first place and killed 6 or and kidnapped two wounded i might add and let them die. don’t you think if you were on the israeli side, you would be mad as hell. You need to be reasonable in order to avoid conflicts. You sound like i know. She causes problems and then turn it around and convince everyone she’s the victim. I am all for lebanon and support 100% the LAF. But it takes patience and wisdom and good will to avoid wars. Hezbollah did not have any of those traits when the war started. When you don’t the other side is going to behalf just like you. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. hezbollah started it and they had to live with the consequences of it. They were lucky to have UN passed a 1701 resolution to stop the bombing. Now they’re back arrogant again and itching for a fight. Well i know hezbollah is much stronger than 2006 but this time the will of the israelis are much more determined to strike hard without mercy. Problem is its going to level lebanon all because of these thugs you’re protecting. And for what? tell me for what?

  5. tarie has autism……

    i agree with sandman and walid

    tarie is definitely an israeli agent. anyone understanding israel’s POV is israeli.

    i never feel sorry for or understand israel.

  6. Tarie Al Fanarie Avatar
    Tarie Al Fanarie

    Tony did you call then Walid Jumblatt an israeli agent when he was attacking hezbollah, Syria and Lahoud? Just because we have difference of opinions and we both want peace in different ways. That don’t make me israeli agents? if you’re going to keep agreeing with hezbollah that its okay to keep attacking israel, then you’re an enemy of Lebanon because hezbollah do not seek out peace and only want destructions. Again who caused the 2006 by kidnapping and killing israeli soldiers? why Tony am i being called israeli agents because i want to avoid conflicts not just wiht israel, but with syria, and even extremists in lebanon.I would be happy if they all leave us in peace. But if they don’t, then truthfully i don’t care if they wipe each other out. hezbollah are mad dogs made up of fabricated movement by Iran and Syria and nothing more being their puppet. If Imam Mousa Sadr was alive today, chances are we would not see hezbollah and nassrallah. Even when late Faddlalah was supporting them he was also being logical and not siding with Iran. When he didn’t he was shot at and almost killed. so anyone who’s opposing your opionin is an israeli traitor? its ok I know you’re going to Lebanon and you’re trying to have a smooth trip.

    1. taire you are an israeli agent. you love israel and you actaully understand their POV.

      get lost i have nothing else to say to you. you really are a stupid person. you keep saying the same thing over and over again. you’re really annoying and you bring nothing that benefits lebanon.

      fadi i picture you as a very depressed human being that holds a lot of grudge yet again, you bring nothing that will unite lebanon.

      i get minuses for saying lets all sit and get along while israel lovers get plusses.

      i wonder who is really reading this newspaper.

      1. Tarie Al Fanarie Avatar
        Tarie Al Fanarie

        Tony you’re not only naive you’re too stupid to see the truth.

  7. Fadi Abboud Avatar
    Fadi Abboud

    can’t you people come up with a more creative insult than calling anyone who attacks Hezb-el-satan an automatic Israeli agent?

    1. fanarie as i researched is actually an italian name so go play elsewhere israeli.

  8. Tarie Al Fanarie Avatar
    Tarie Al Fanarie

    Forgive them Fadi because they don’t know any better. When all else fails blame it on israel. Why not it works very well in their favor. But they ally themselves with syria in order to spy and kill and torture lebanese, we call it brotherly love. And who can argue against this love..

    1. Sandman Avatar

      Tarie, I in no manner support occupation of Lebanon and kidnapping of Lebanese civilians by any outside force or government and that includes Israel and Syria.

      I want a free Lebanon that is capable of defending itself. If it weren’t for the 18 year ISraeli occupation, HA would not be a current issue. People like you Tarie are only happy to get on their knees and sign a peace treaty with Israel while under its occupation like Bachir Gemayel intended to do before his treasonous life was snuffed out of him.

      You do not give one hint of loyalty to Lebanon ot its gorvernment. No wonder you sound like an Israeli pretending to be Lebanese.

      Israel littered south Lebanon with 1-2 million cluster bombs that continue to kill our people and in particular children and you are so quick to mourn the death of the Israeli Commander by LAF sniper fire.

      Afterall, you could be one of those so called Lebanese who spy and work for Israel and that makes you the worst kind of traitor.

      1. Tarie Al Fanarie Avatar
        Tarie Al Fanarie

        First I would never kneel down before anybody to make peace with them. If I seek peace with israel that don’t mean kneeling down. The only you guys wants us to do is kneel down to hezbollah that’s what at least seems to be. Second Bashir Gemayl was a true hero and i can tell you hate him. He had to defend his country by any means and even if he had to use israel in the process. Just like now Syria and hezbollah using each other to accomplish their goals. If Syria and the PLO were tough match for him so he had no choice but to resort to outside help. As far as I am concerned he would be alive at least or maybe his life would have been extended longer has he not resisted the israelis. I am sure in my heart they knew he would be assasinated because he didn’t want Lebanon to be part of israeli plans as Sharon and Begin demanded. Was it okay for you to have arafat and every ABu something with every combination of the alphabet? The army was 13 thousands troops and rashi karami didn’t want to even send it to put down the civil fightings. What else can bashir do? you guys say i bring the past but its okay for you to bring it. What brought Hezbollah is only a plan to spread the iraninans rules and regimes across the arabic world and extend it if needed. Listen to Nassrallah speech when he talked about the islamic lebanon and waliat al faqih. Yes that was long time ago you say, but his works change since but his mind is still set on these goals. I would not doubt it a bit that he wants to accomplish these goals of Lebanon be under the rules of khameini the Supreme leader of Iran. You can believe all you like but recent torture and killing and raping of the iranian opposition leaders and their followers do not indicate anyone under iranian rules will be permitted to have freedom of mind or speech. How can i trust hezbollah who is slowly controlling every aspect of Lebanon that will not do that? how can i trust someone who said he will not attack his own people did it in 2008. And every day on TV he comes back roaring like a wounded lion and threatening civil strife if the STL convicted the members of his party? Are the lebanese people attacking him and his party in order for him to say that 2008 events may be repeated? is 2008 30 yrs ago? He keeps reminding us of pain and pleasure. He uses the carrot and sticks. Carrot if you shut up on the STL or stick if you want to stick with the STL. pick your poison?

  9. sandman my brother, israel left 4 million my friend NOT 1-2 million BUT 4 million (thats nearly the whole population of lebanon).

    tarie has finally exposed himself cos he does nothing but regurgitates dead facts that happened 30 years ago.

    thank you sandman for your input for the sake of lebanon.

  10. In my opinion the most effective way to protect lebanon against israel is by the balance of violance, or terror.Israle doesnot need a reason to inflict pain on lebanon and its people,it has benn doing it for the last 50 years,so the point is not will they attack lebanon, history says yes,so the logical thing is to find ways to protect lebanon from this criminal,by any means neccesary,

    the LAF cannot defeat the IDF yet at this time only the resistance can.

  11. wilypagan Avatar
    wilypagan

    Look – this is the kind of system of justice you can expect from your Persian patrons:

    http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=184169

    If you’re not a spy, then you must be gay.

  12. “Israeli strategists rely on game theory models to ensure the intended response to staged provocations and manipulated crises. With the use of game theory algorithms, those responses become predictable, even foreseeable-within an acceptable range of probabilities. The waging of war “by way of deception” is now a mathematical discipline.”

  13. Such “probabilistic” war planning enables Tel Aviv to deploy serial provocations and well-timed crises as a force multiplier to project Israeli influence worldwide. For a skilled agent provocateur, the target can be a person, a company, an economy, a legislature, a nation or an entire culture-such as Islam. With a well-modeled provocation, the anticipated reaction can even become a powerful weapon in the Israeli arsenal.

  14. Israeli strategists rely on game theory models to ensure the intended response to staged provocations and manipulated crises. With the use of game theory algorithms, those responses become predictable, even foreseeable-within an acceptable range of probabilities. The waging of war “by way of deception” is now a mathematical discipline.

    Such “probabilistic” war planning enables Tel Aviv to deploy serial provocations and well-timed crises as a force multiplier to project Israeli influence worldwide. For a skilled agent provocateur, the target can be a person, a company, an economy, a legislature, a nation or an entire culture-such as Islam. With a well-modeled provocation, the anticipated reaction can even become a powerful weapon in the Israeli arsenal.

  15. YOU PEOPLE ARE SICK !! WITHOUT hIZBOLLAH we would live a miserable life .. If they didn’t defend our country .. who would ??

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