A Wall Street Journal editorial–entitled “Status Quo Ante“–sums up what I take to be the disappointment of Right Zionists.
Ever since war broke out last month on the Israeli-Lebanese frontier, the Bush Administration has said it wouldn’t tolerate a return to the “status quo ante,” in which Hezbollah behaved as a power unto itself within the Lebanese state. Yet after reading the text of the U.N. Security Council’s cease-fire resolution adopted unanimously on Friday, we’d say the “status quo ante” is nearly what we’ve got.
And perhaps worse than that, because Hezbollah has now shown it can battle Israel to a military draw. The new resolution does call for disarming Hezbollah, just as resolution 1559 previously did, but without saying who will do it. Presumably that task is intended for the Lebanese Army, which is supposed to occupy the parts of southern Lebanon from which Hezbollah launched its attacks on Israel. But Lebanon’s army is a weak force, consciously undermined over the years of Syrian occupation, and is largely Shiite. There’s reason to doubt it will be able to disarm Hezbollah’s still-powerful Shiite military.
That just about says it all. If the point of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon was to disarm Hezbollah, that goal has proven elusive and–given the state of Lebanon’s politics–looks unlikely to be met any time soon.
Yesterday’s news of an impasse in the Lebanese Cabinet (discussed in a prior post)–where Hezbollah ministers balk at any move by the government of Prime Minister Siniora to disarm Hezbollah–is an exact replica of a similar crisis that began in December 2005.
According to the Daily Star, ministers from the two Shiite factions–Amal and Hezbollah–began a boycott of the Cabinet on December 12, 2005. At that time, they reportedly demanded, as a condition for their continued participation in government, that Lebanon send a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the Lebanese government had fulfilled the conditions of UN Resolution 1559..
Lebanon’s governmental crisis faced new complications Monday, with Christian ministers refusing one of the conditions set by the Shiite ministers to return to Cabinet. Talking to The Daily Star, Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis said his party, the Lebanese Forces, was not about to accept addressing the UN Security Council with a letter saying that the internal part of Resolution 1559 was implemented.
Resolution 1559 calls for, among other things, the disarmament of Hizbullah and Palestinian militias, but the Lebanese government had said the issue should be solved through internal dialogue.
However, addressing a letter to the UN indicating that Lebanon has fully implemented 1559 has emerged as one of the main demands of the ministers of Hizbullah and the Amal Movement to end their 15-day-long boycott of Cabinet meetings and to resume their duties.
At first, Prime Minister Siniora dug in his heals–at least in part to appease UN Security Council–especially, the United States. According to the Daily Star:
A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”
The spokesperson said that: “Such a statement would mean that UN resolution 1559 had already been implemented and thus put Lebanon in a state of confrontation with the Security Council.”
It was at this moment that the Saudis and Syrians met in January 2006 to try to patch things up.
At first, Siniora balked when the Saudis began to push accomodation with Syria and Hezbollah. According to a Daily Star article (“Lebanon Cool at Saudi Plan on Syria Ties,” January 18, 2006; unavailable on-line):
The Saudi plan made public this week seeks to patch up Syrian-Lebanese differences since the February killing of a Lebanese ex-prime minister in which a U.N. probe has implicated Syrian officials. More bombings have followed the assassination.
“This (Saudi) paper does not meet Lebanese ambitions,” Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora told reporters. “We see that there are steps that need to be stressed, beginning with the security situation and the need to stop the killing machine.”…
“To be precise on this subject, these are Syrian ideas that Prince Saud al-Faisal carried, there is no Arab initiative yet,” Siniora said.
Before long, however, Siniora was recalled to Saudi Arabia for a friendly visit and quickly changed his tune. According to a Daily Star article (“Siniora Sees Primary Role for Saudis,” February 15, 2006; unavailable on-line):
During his one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday to revive Arab mediation efforts, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated that Saudi Arabia “was and will still be the main support for Lebanon.” Siniora has been meeting with Arab officials such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, both of whom have proposed the Arab initiative to “ease the tensions between Lebanon and Syria.”
The initiative is now being revived after it was thwarted when it was leaked last month to the leaders of the March 14 Forces, who viewed it as a “Syrian initiative that wants to restore Syria’s control on Lebanon.”
The revivial of the Saudi initiative took the wind out of any effort to disarm Hezbollah–and, not coincidentally, probably helped dull the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
According to the Associated Press:
U.N. investigators had earlier implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and Assad’s brother-in-law.
After the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the pressure on Shawkat seemed diminished. According to another Associated Press report, the UN pushed back the deadline for concluding the investigation.
Chief investigator Serge Brammertz, earlier reported to the Security Council that progress was being made but he refused to repeat accusations that top Syrian officials with links to President Bashar Assad were responsible.
It would seem that the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah have done little to change any of this.
Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges that the Lebanese government may not have the power to disarm Hezbollah, even if it had the will to do so.
As to the will to disarm Hezbollah, that remains fragile at best. With its most recent retreat from participation in the Cabinet, Hezbollah is calling the bluff of Prime Minister Siniora.
One recent report from an Israeli source, Ynetnews, suggests some signs of political will among pro-Saudi Lebanese politicians to take on Hezbollah. But I can find no confirmation of the quotes from other news sources and it seems like slim pickings–as the analyst suggests:
“We will obtain revenge against those who got Lebanon entangled,” Saad Hariri said fearlessly, while Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Hizbullah of working for Iranian and Syrian interests, and not in the favor of Lebanon.
“The Druze, the Sunni Muslims, some of the Maronite Christians, and maybe even some of the Shiites are lying in wait for Nasrallah,” explained Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon.
“There is no doubt that they will hurl accusations at him for wreaking havoc in Lebanon, and there is no doubt that the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons will be raised.“
“But nonetheless, it still seems that there is no one who can disarm Hizbullah apart from Nasrallah himself. And southern Lebanon is the organization’s ‘home.’ It is reasonable to assume that it will do everything to rehabilitate and arm itself,” he added.
Only Nasrallah can disarm Nasrallah. Seems unlikely to me. How about you?
Just watched “Team Freedom” (Bush, Cheney, Rice) gather for a press conference to discuss the “Freedom Program” in the Middle East. Notwithstanding a lot of Right Zionist rhetoric, it was clearly a concession speech. At one point, in a response to a question about claims that Hezbollah won Bush said, “If I were Hezbollah I would claim victory, too.” Of course, he meant that everybody always tries to spin the news to their own advantage. But it was a telling statement. I don’t have a transcript yet, but there was also lots of talk about how “difficult” the battle against terror can be.
I think it might not be possible to overstate the importance of this defeat for the Bush administration. Either it marks a very new moment in US relations with Israel–and will undermine all future efforts to by Right Zionists to argue that Israel can help the US police the Middle East–or it will prompt the Bush administration to redouble its commitment to never lose again. I predict the former. This defeat is a far greater disappointment to Right Zionists than just about anything that has happened on Sistani’s watch in Iraq.
One final thought on the likelihood of anyone disarming Hezbollah now.
How about the French?
Not so much…
Here is the New York Times report:
Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, told Le Monde on Saturday that the purpose of the enlarged Unifil would not include the disarming of Hezbollah by force. “We never thought a purely military solution could resolve the problem of Hezbollah,” he said. “We are agreed on the goal, the disarmament, but for us the means are purely political.”
That is the kind of immediate backtracking from the resolution that worries the Israelis, and which they say justifies their continuing military offensive to push Hezbollah back beyond the Litani, because they do not believe that the Lebanese Army, even with Unifil, will do it.
A Foreign Ministry official pointed out that it was Mr. Douste-Blazy who, in Beirut, called Iran “a force for stability in the region” when Europe is trying, with the United States, to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.