Will U. S. Policy in Lebanon and the Middle East Ever Change?

Will U. S. Policy in Lebanon and the Middle East Ever Change?

“Absolutely not! Without a credible deterrent force, there is no real Lebanese sovereignty. Israel came very close to getting nearly all it wanted with the 1983 May 17th agreement. Had Hezbollah not prevented this, Lebanon today would be colonized with near confederation status with Israel. The Bush administration’s democracy and “save the Christians” crusade back-fired when each election resulted in Islamist victories while his war in Iraq and support for Israel is making refugees of a high percentage of Christians. It is now Hezbollah and its allies who are protecting the Christians and want free elections in the Middle East, not the Bush administration”.

American student interviewed as part of a survey of 27 Lebanese institutions of higher education on whether Hezbollah should immediately disarm.

As noted previously, the US government is not obsessed by Hezbollah”s deterrent capability. It appears prepared to back off from this issue and signal to Hezbollah that it can keep its weapons if they use them only in legitimate self defense against a foreign attack.

This seemingly sharp change of policy is similar to Secretary of State Rice”s apparent switch from Bush administration demands regarding an immediate election of a Lebanese president to her April 14, 2008 statement that it is really not necessary after all. Beirut”s pro-government

An Nahar newspaper reported this week that an Arab diplomat quoted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as telling the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that the absence of a president in Lebanon was not a problem and that her top priority was to keep Premier Fouad Siniora as head of the executive body: “What”s wrong with keeping the situation in Lebanon as it is? Our priority is to keep Fouad Siniora as head of the democratically elected government…and that he acts according to the powers granted to him and the president,” the source, according to Beirut”s As Safir daily, quoted Rice.

The new US rationale creates a legal fiction to avoid the “resistance/militia” problem presented by UNSC Resolutions 1559 and 1701 and would align the US position with the views of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the current Prime Minister Siniora as well as a majority in Parliament, the Lebanese public the United Nations membership. To wit:

The 2005 Lebanese cabinet statement: “The government considers that Lebanon”s resistance is a sincere and natural expression of the Lebanese people”s right to defend its land and dignity in the face of Israeli aggression threats, and ambitions as well as it”s right to continue its actions to free Lebanese territory.”

Hassan Nasrallah, in his speech at Bint Jbeil on May 25, 2005, explained that during meetings with Prime Minister Rafic Hariri that they had become friends and that Hariri offered to write out is his own handwriting a statement regarding the right of the resistance to bear arms.

According to Nasrallah: “I told him, “Forgive me, please; I do not want you to do that; I will accept your word. Just say it and it will be enough. He (PM Rafic Hariri) then said to me, word for word, “After a careful examination of the resistance”s experience, performance, wisdom, equilibrium, and efficiency, I came to believe in it. I can also tell you that if I become prime minister again, I will not implement that paragraph in Resolution 1559. I agree that the resistance and its weapons must stay until a comprehensive settlement is reached in the region.”

His son, Saad Hariri confirmed this to CNN when he stated that Hezbollah was not an armed militia but an armed resistance movement for all of Lebanon. Moreover, the State Department Office of the General Council knows the legal and political effect of the February 2006 Siniora declaration that his government will not call Hezbollah “by any name other than the resistance”.

A recent survey of an important segment of Lebanese opinion confirms that the general Lebanese public favors Hezbollah retaining its deterrent capability pending a just resolution of the Question of Palestine.

As part of a research project on Hezbollah, an admittedly unscientific survey of 27 Lebanese institutions of higher learning was undertaken, conducted over a four month period. The following questions were posed to randomly approached students, faculty and staff from, among others, the American University of Science and Technology, University of Balamand, American University of Beirut, Arab Open University, University of Saint Joseph, Beirut Arab University, Islamic University of Lebanon, Lebanese American University.

Survey Questions

1. Do you favor Hezbollah retaining its armed military wing and its weapons for the time being?

2. If yes, why?

3. If no, why not?

Of those surveyed, 12 per cent thought Hezbollah should immediately turn its weapons over to the Lebanese Army after agreement with the Government and with international guarantees in place that Israel would not attack Lebanon again. The main reasons given were variations on the idea that a sovereign country should have only one source of authority and control over its military and deterrence capability.

The remaining 88 per cent surveyed thought that Hezbollah should retain its weapons for the time being and offered a range of reasons:

· Hezbollah is currently the only force In Lebanon capable of deterring Israeli aggression;

· Having Hezbollah as a deterrent force at this time is in Lebanon”s national interest given US and Israel provocations such as the 6th fleet, numerous threats, Israeli over flights, assassinations etc.;

· Israel continues to interfere with our water sources and threatens war over Lebanon”s use of our own Wazzani and Hasbani Rivers;

· UN Security Council Resolution 425 has not yet been implemented as Israel continues to occupy the Shebaa farms, the village of Ghajar, and other parcels of Lebanese land;

· Israel cannot be trusted not to invade Lebanon at will and US “guarantees” are worthless as Lebanon and the world saw in 1982 when the US “guaranteed” the safety of the Palestinian Refugee Camps including Sabra-Shatila;

· Israel still has not released our Lebanese hostages and prisoners and arrests our citizens along the northern border of Palestine at will;

· Hezbollah has a national and moral duty to retain a military capacity to support the liberation of Palestine, the central cause for Arabs;

· Without facing a credible deterrent, Israel would never consider giving back the occupied Golan Heights to Syria;

· Without Hezbollah being able to contain and deter Zionist Israel, Lebanon”s resources would be siphoned by Israel including its water, its land, and its independence;

· Hezbollah is the only Party with broad enough support, moral suasion, and substance to maintain stability and prevent a US/Israeli encouraged civil war;

· Hezbollah keeps the US from repeating the 1982-83 intervention and disaster;

· Some American students studying in Lebanon identified with the views expressed by a student from New York: “A strong Hezbollah provides moral support to resistance and liberation efforts in the Middle East and human rights causes in the West. For example, the American people have a daunting task in breaking the Zionist hold on its government and its media. But it is slowly being achieved by education and the American people learning the facts of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Lebanon. Hezbollah”s success inspires and encourages this movement”;

· “There is no other group to protect Lebanon. UNIFIL has never been respected by Israel and the Lebanese army is too weak and will likely remain so because the Bush administration and Israel worry its arms may be used to defend Lebanon against, God forbid, Israel!”;

· Hezbollah helps protect UNIFIL and even the US Embassy from al Qaeda kidnappings and attacks;

· A strong Hezbollah provides inspiration and moral support for increasing numbers of Lebanese, Europeans and Americans who reject the Bush administration aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and its funding of Israeli aggression with its killing in Lebanon and Palestine;

· In the early 1980s Lebanese President Amin Gemayel moved against the weapons in Muslim west Beirut but did not disturb the Phalangist arms in Christian east Beirut. In addition, Gemayel ordered the army to remove Shia from their homes on the outskirts of Beirut shortly after he was inaugurated. We need a settlement before we feel trust and confidence to give up the security we now have;

· Hezbollah”s strength gives the Palestinians hope whereas leaders of Arabs states have failed to join the liberation/resistance struggle either in Palestine or Lebanon, some as a result of being bought off such as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf or threatened;

· Given the long history of discrimination against Lebanon”s Shia population, Hezbollah”s vigor gives the community confidence as they rebuild their lives and try to get the government to deliver services to their areas;

· Our citizens continue to die in the South from US/Israeli landmines and cluster bombs and Israel still refuses to give the UN demining teams maps to help clear them;

· The Lebanese army is weak and the US/Israel project is intent on keeping it weak;

· Israel”s threat to transfer the Palestinian population must be resisted and only Hezbollah currently has the power and credibility to do this;

· The Lebanese Resistances” strength has a stabilizing and calming affect on Lebanon because it will not allow others to provoke another civil war;

· The question of Hezbollah”s weapons should be referred to the new government following the coming elections and the selection of a President;

· The Bush administration push to disarm the Lebanese Resistance is an Israeli decision to help Israel, not to help the Lebanese people.

A recent editorial in the conservative Beirut Daily Star reflects the views of much of Lebanon”s academic community:

During all the years that Hezbollah conducted low-intensity warfare against Israeli occupation forces in South Lebanon (and perhaps even in 2006), there were many instances in which its capacity to exact a heavier toll deterred or limited escalation by the Jewish state… Hezbollah came into existence as the direct result of Israeli aggression. Today the party serves a far wider variety of social, political and economic purposes, but it was born of a refusal to acquiesce in Israel”s continual abuse and bullying of this country. …

The history matters more than anything else because solving a problem requires an understanding of cause and effect – and because the historical behavior that created the situation has not changed: The Israelis have not, for example, fully vacated the Lebanese territory they occupy, stopped violating Lebanese airspace, or provided badly needed firing data that might help demining crews clear unexploded ordnance that has killed or wounded 300 Lebanese since the end of the 2006 war.

By stressing Hezbollah”s guns today instead of the decades of innumerable depredations to which they have been a response, therefore, the Security Council tries to put the cart before the horse.

The bottom line is that Hezbollah will not grant impunity for the Israelis to run roughshod over the Lebanese as they have the Palestinians. The sooner the Security Council absorbs that immutable fact, the sooner it can get to work on the source of the conflict. If not, it becomes even more important for March 14 to do so because if Israel retains its “free pass,” this country and its government is going to need all the strength they can muster.”

“Believe it or not there are some plusses for the Bush administration if Hezbollah is strong”, explained a Senate Intelligence Committee Staffer during an email exchange recently:

“It seems they (the Bush administration) don”t see any really good options right now nor do they see certain long term American benefits if Hezbollah disarms. Some see a strong Hezbollah as a deterrent to regional interference in Lebanon. Hezbollah might be the stabilizing factor in the region the international community is looking for. Being Lebanese nationalists, if need be in the finally analysis they [Hezbollah] can be counted on to stand up to Syria, Israel or Iran for the good of their people and country.”

She continued:

“The terrorism case against Hezbollah is weak and the Administration does not feel it has solid grounds to pursue it. Believe it or not some of us were a little embarrassed back in October of 2001 when then National Security advisor Rice was new on the job and expressed surprise to the international media that so many in Lebanon supported Hezbollah which she claimed, without offering any proof, “has killed innocent people”.

The next question for Rice from a reporter was to ask her about the US bombing that very same day by the Bush administration of the Sultanpur Mosque in Jalalabad which killed more than 200 family worshippers.

Rice said she had no knowledge of that and would get back to the reporter who, the last I heard, was still waiting her reply.

“The point,” the staffer wrote, “ is their [Hezbollah”s] record is better than ours and given our credibility problem the US does not want to touch the ‘you are worse than we are pissing contest’. Hezbollah has not attacked us for almost 25 years, really since they went public in 1985. We discount the early and wild 1980s a bit because they weren”t really organized and we were also playing pretty rough over there (in Lebanon) when we used the New Jersey and tried to hit Fadlallah and some other stuff. We don”t need to fight Hezbollah. There are plenty of other actors out there who constitute a real threat to us and we know Hezbollah, like us, can”t always choose associates which sometimes geopolitical conditions impose.”

For nearly a quarter century the feelers from the American side have been variations of selected boilerplate tenders. Recent Middle East realities have added some others.

What the Bush administration wants from Hezbollah

· A public announcement of, and adherence to, a Hezbollah policy that separates Islam from terrorism in the minds of the western public, i.e. between religions on the one hand and terrorist activity on the other. This, the US argues, will allow for acceptance of Hezbollah in the West and allow for normalizing relations;

· In a switch from sponsoring salafists against Hezbollah, Washington now wants a “security cooperation understanding” with Hezbollah whereby it would monitor al Qaeda and provide the US with information about groups or individuals Hezbollah may have information about. For example, those who are apt to strike inside the US;

· Hezbollah is to agree to stay away from the Blue Line from Naqoura to Khiam and further up opposite Shebaa Farms;

· To end its encouragement of and support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad;

· Remove itself from activity regarding Syria and the Golan Heights and leave that issue to the parties directly concerned

· Desist from making an issue of the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar and leave it to the US and the UN to see that Israel withdraws;

· Pull back from Iran and concentrate on its own role as a political party operating strictly for, of and by Lebanon.

Further, that:

· Hezbollah must separate itself from the Arab-Israeli conflict including Jerusalem;

· Hezbollah should commit to Lebanon not taking more than its “equitable share” of the Lebanese rivers and water sources including the Wazzani, which, argues the Bush administration, supplies 30 per cent of “Israel”s Jordan River” (!)

· Hezbollah must agree not to interfere with the naturalization or relocation of Palestinians in Lebanon or with transferring groups of them internationally to suitable countries for “proper settlement” as a resolution of the Right of Return issue.

What does Hezbollah get in return?

An offer Hezbollah will refuse

“Nobody can impose terms on us, or commit us to anything we do not believe in. Let me be clear: Israel won”t get through politics what it didn”t get through war, even if the UN resolution gave this to Israel. What they couldn”t do through war, they want to do by peaceful means? It doesn”t work like that.”

—Hezbollah deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem, Al-Manar television, 15 August 2006

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr (“just call me Joe–anything but Sue” as he does his Johnny Cash imitation) Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and twice Presidential Candidate, is a friendly, loquacious and knowledgeable fellow. Having served on that Committee for nearly a quarter century and traveled widely, Biden thinks of himself as someone who can be confronted with “deal breakers” at the negotiation table and work out mutually acceptable solutions. He apparently believes that if Barack Obama becomes president, US policy in the region may change.

Some members of Biden’s committee staff generally favor engagement with Hezbollah (privately) if the Party would agree. “The Party of God, not the Zionist controlled Democratic Party”, one staffer hastens to add.

When asked what they conclude the US would be willing to extend Hezbollah based on earlier feelers and offers and what they learned from Committee Staff discussions with White House Congressional liaison personnel, State Department contacts, and their own tuition, the following emerge:

Rebuilding Lebanon and Keeping Israel At Bay

“The US will consider funding a “Marshall Plan” type operation for rebuilding South Lebanon and guarantee [that word again!] that Israel stays out. The US would be prepared to transfer directly to Hezbollah designated bank accounts “enormous sums of money to spend on the territories Israel destroyed, and equivalent sums to improve other deprived areas of the country”.

A Congressional media operative noted this off the record by email:

“Just ask Egypt and Jordan how we can sweeten a deal! Hezbollah should not worry about losing Iranian funding. We”ve got a lot more than they do!”

International Legitimacy

The Bush administration would anoint Hezbollah with the US imprimatur of “international legitimacy”, repeal the relevant targeting Executive orders and remove Hezbollah”s Information Unit (Al Manar TV, Radio Noor etc), its Construction Company (Jihad al Bina), its social service agencies and its financial institutions from the US Treasury and State department Terrorism lists.

Cluster Bomb Maps

The US will force Israel to turn over maps of planted land mines, cluster bomb maps and firing logs which the international community has been demanding for the past 18 months following the end of the 2006 July War. Hezbollah is greatly concerned about the unexploded ordnance terrorizing its popular base in the South. The Tyre based UN Mine Action Coordination Committee has so far uncovered 966 civilian locations where Israel dropped US cluster bombs covering an area of 39 million square meters. UNMACC Program Manager in Tyre Chris Clark estimates that de-miners have been able to locate and disarm 143,000 US-supplied cluster bombs, but another million or more may remain. Since the end of the fighting in mid August 2006, the total number of people injured or killed is 296 according to Dalia Farren, Director of Media Relations at UNMACC.

To date the Bush administration has not demanded the maps from Israel, despite Lebanese continuing to die, because the State Department Office of General Counsel produced a Legal Memorandum which warns that if Israel releases the demanded information it will effectively constitute a self-indictment for War Crimes.

UNIFIL knows this but has chosen to keep quiet while routinely renewing its public demands knowing that Israel will not comply unless the US forces it. The Pentagon has no problem with “cutting the bastards (Israel) loose on this one and forcing them to “fess up”, according to a Congressional source.

A clarifying comment from one of the aforementioned Memorandum”s authors:

“The Winograd Commission claims that Israel used cluster bombs in accordance with international and US law has no support from the July 2006 record. Israel committed serial war crimes as well as wholesale violations of American law that no other country would be allowed to do.

In 1982 President Reagan cut off cluster bombs to Israel for 6 years. This time President Bush won”t touch the issue and Congress has buried the US Arms Export Act violations, hoping the public won”t demand its application. Some US officials complain that they have a hard time looking their Lebanese-American constituents in the eye. We are not proud of what”s become of their little country because of our weapons.”

Releasing Lebanese Prisoners in Israeli Jails and Territorial Sovereignty

· The US would obtain the release of all Hezbollah detainees and prisoners from Israeli jails;

· The US will force the return of Shebaa Farms, Ghajar, end Israeli over flights of Lebanese territory and violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
From Opposition to Government

· The US would secure a bigger role for Hezbollah in the Lebanese Government while establishing normal relations with the party, lifting all US travel constraints imposed on its members and supporters while cooperating with Hezbollah in forming a new government based on the results of the 2009 elections while encouraging a new census, the first once since 1933.

As a Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Lebanese specialist recently emailed:

“Do you really think Lebanon”s hereditary tribal government is going to change? More than one-third of Lebanon”s Parliament constitutes family hand-me-down seats. If you agree that the Lebanese people are fed up with the “warlords” how do you think we feel? There ought to be a one person, one vote system to elect their leaders. For me personally, dealing with a group that keeps its word would be a welcomed relief in my office. Hezbollah is quintessentially nationalist and can handle Iran and Syria. You get my meaning”.

One staffer on the House subcommittee on the Middle East explained as background:

“Personally, and I certainly don”t speak for the White House, I see the whole of Lebanon on the table. The right deal and Hezbollah can have it as far as I am concerned. What is the right deal? Our Committee Staff mainly believes Hamas will offer essentially a perpetual cease fire to Israel in exchange for all, repeat, all of the Palestine taken in 1967 and a return to the June 4, 1967 border with Jerusalem at its capital. That includes a full right of return for the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees. That means no checkpoints, no settlements, no outposts, no Israeli presence and no excuses!”

If Hamas can accept this, then Hezbollah”s past statements regarding acceptance of a solution to the Question of Palestine arrived at by the Palestinians might mean peace.

Hezbollah”s Response

Hezbollah accepts dialogue as a matter of principle and axiom. Historically, the Shia culture generally and Hezbollah in particular is comfortable with discussions and exchanging ideas with friends and foes ranging from issues of war and peace to social problems to religion and ways to improve peoples lives. It is prepared for dialogue over the question of Palestine, the bloodstream issue and central cause of Arabs and Muslims and increasingly people around the World.

However, Hezbollah has consistently rejected most US feelers because, as Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has stated, “our acquiescence to America”s demands would simply have meant abandoning our faith, our people and our history.”

As far back as November 16, 2001, Hassan Nasrallah explained Hezbollah”s past objections to US offers to the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam:

“As for their demand that we sever our connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict, that would mean the total elimination of Hezbollah”s head and heart, a complete disregard for the martyrs” blood and a betrayal of their families” tears, of our people and of their sacrifice. It would also mean giving up our religious and legal duty to come to the assistance of Palestine”.

According to Hezbollah, the US has tried several times “to place us in a state of confrontation with what they called “Sunni fundamentalism”.

They tried to provoke us along these lines, on the grounds that, in the future, Sunni fundamentalism will pose the gravest threat to Shiism”. The Bush administration, according to Hezbollah, also tried to get Iran to attack the Taliban and provoke a Shia-Sunni confrontation. But Iran did not fall into the trap.

With respect to the bargaining chip of pulling back from the Palestinian cause, Hezbollah considers that it has, in the words of Nasrallah, “a moral, humanitarian, religious, patriotic, and national duty towards the Palestinians”.

Hezbollah believes that peace will come to Palestine and the region not through a phony “peace process” trying to buy off the Palestinian or Lebanese Resistance but when the occupation ends. It really is that simple. And until the Bush administration or its successor in Washington really understand this, negotiations will remain just talk.

One Hezbollah acquaintance stated: “We need to ensure at the beginning of negotiations that the occupation ends. Then peace can be made between states. An occupied people cannot make peace with its occupiers”.

With respect to the current “situation” in Lebanon, Hezbollah”s international relations officer, Nawaf Moussawi stated recently that the “most dangerous thing in US policies currently [has been] their engagement in the blatant disruption of attempts at dialogue and consensus among Lebanese political forces.” Moussawi added that the US was engaged in “deepening political and sectarian divides within each confession in order to ignite mobile civil wars.” He stressed that the freedom of Lebanon could only come through its “self-defense capabilities, including those of the resistance” and that independence could only be attained through consensus and unity.

What the Hezbollah leadership discusses in its Shura Council becomes public knowledge only when Hezbollah wants it to. But until today Hezbollah views US proposals with deep suspicion and as calculated to advance Israel”s agenda in the region.

Hezbollah is no stranger to the Bush Administration carrot and stick pattern of wooing and then harshly threatening if overtures are spurned. Hezbollah respects the American people but views most of the recent American governments proposals “as nothing but a political bomb meant to destroy Hezbollah, since they cannot of course destroy us by dropping a nuclear bomb on us,” as Hezbollah”s Secretary General Nasrallah has said.

Regarding the future, Nasrallah told the Kuwaiti Daily Al-Rai Al-Aam,

“We are not at all worried. We are holding fast to the options that our legitimate, religious, national, humane, and moral commitments impose on us, and do not think that the US will carry out military operations in this region. At any rate, they do not have valid pretexts for doing so, and we stand firm in our positions, our path, and our convictions.”

Many in Washington would favor dialogue with Hezbollah. It remains to be seen if “bridge builders” can make that happen and if we are going to see some serious changes in US foreign policy starting with the Middle East.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel”s use of American Weapons against Lebanon (1978-2006) is available at Amazon.com.uk or Lebanese Bookstores (soon also in Arabic).In the USA, the title is available at www.LebaneseBooks.com, and currently enjoys Free Standard Shipping. Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners is expected soon in Arabic and English. Franklin Lamb can be reached at [email protected]