August 21, 2010

Israel Blurring Hezbollah with Lebanese Army

What exactly happened on the Blue Line near Adaisseh is still anyone’s guess, but the skirmish between Israeli and Lebanese troops has tilted heavily towards Beirut’s favor. Israel seized the initiative with a diplomatic and media blitz that painted Lebanon as the aggressor, thereby justifying its probing encroachment on Hezbollah and blocking US military aid in Congress.

And with direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians blanketing the front pages, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surviving off the fumes of US sympathy.

But like direct negotiations, which may prematurely implode, Israel has lost the strategic advantage after its tactical flurry. Iran quickly offered to replace America’s military aid and Lebanon opened a special account to collect donations from abroad. Beirut convincingly portrayed Israel as an instigator for deliberately axing a disputed tree and failing to grant Lebanese forces an extension to prepare.

Most importantly, Israel’s strategic objective - Hezbollah - has emerged in a stronger position than before. By keeping out of the fighting completely, Hezbollah was free to rally the resistance without attracting scrutiny from outside its base. Israeli aggression further legitimized Hezbollah’s core platform and its necessity, pushing away the ultimate aim of demobilizing the movement.

Hezbollah’s final outcome is now set for integration.

Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces only hold 5% of Lebanese parliament, but as a member of the March 14th alliance, it’s likely that his position more or less represents the Lebanese army. Having already made the transition from militia to political party, Geagea suggested that Hezbollah come under command of the Lebanese army during a National Dialogue on future defense strategy. And rather than dissolve into the ranks, Geagea proposed that Hezbollah’s former members operate as a special unit along the border, in civilian clothing as the situation requires.

While Iran may lose its military grip as a nuclear showdown develops, Hezbollah's political wing can assume precedence and secure uninterrupted influence. Its troops are left on the border, ready as ever. Geagea refuted criticism of a "trap," saying, "Where is the trap? The plan calls for cooperation between Hezbollah and the army without the party revealing its capabilities or weapons."

This arrangement would satisfy Lebanon much more than trying to grab Hezbollah’s weapons out of its hands and evict it from its villages, though it does not fulfill Hezbollah’s independence. When several Hezbollah lawmakers objected that “the resistance” is necessary to national security, Geagea rationally argued that all military forces should come under state institutions representing the people. Yet Hezbollah is also backed by the people, and gaining their approval to subsume their movement may be more vital than Hassan Nasrallah’s consent.

Thus the outcome remains in the distance.

But Nasrallah now holds its trump card. If the UN tries to confiscate its weapons, or a UN tribunal rules against it in the case of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, or if Israeli batters Hezbollah in a future war, Hezbollah can simply fade into the Lebanese army. Never will it truly be disarmed. At some point its soldiers may transform back into yellow clad guerrillas.

Israel’s position, a result of its specific history and relationship with Lebanon, doesn’t speak for broader counterinsurgency though. Assimilating militias is a common tactic used, among many places, in Iraq and Afghanistan. America would be wise to apply the tactic to Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia rather than declare war on it. With 40 parliamentary seats of his own (12% of all seats), the Sadr Movement commands 70 seats overall with the National Iraqi Alliance, making al-Sadr a pivotal actor in Iraq’s deadlock.

At this point little difference exists between Hezbollah and the Sadr Movement’s leadership, politico-religious platform, and military capability.

As for Israel, Adaisseh proved that it will cross the Blue Line and that Hezbollah plays a legitimate role in Lebanon. Israel has always had difficulty turning tactical supremacy into strategy victory.

1 comment:

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