Friday, August 11, 2006

"Why a Hizballah defeat is [even] more important for the US than Israel" (Henri Barkey)

The author of the piece below, Henri Barkey, is an scholar of international relations with special expertise in the Middle East who also spent time as a member of the US State Department's Policy Planning Staff during the Clinton administration. It's likely that Barkey has more information than the rest of us about thinking within the US foreign policy establishment, and that adds to the interest of this analysis, which focuses on how the current Israeli/Lebanese crisis looks from the perspective of US foreign policy. (There has been surprisingly little serious discussion of this angle during the past several weeks.)

Barkey argues that a resolution of this crisis involving a visible and decisive defeat for Hezbollah (diplomatic and political as well as military) is am important goal for both Israel and the US, which in itself is not a surprising idea. But Barkey also argues that in some respects US policymakers regard this goal as even more crucial for the US than for Israel. If this assessment is correct--and Barkey makes a plausible argument--it could help illuminate some of the ongoing interactions between the diplomatic maneuvering centered on the UN Security Council and military and political developments in the Israel/Hezbollah conflict. The Israeli military & security analyst Yossi Alpher, in his August 10 briefings posted on the Americans for Peace Now website, drew on Barkey's analysis in offering his own impression of these dynamics.
The Israeli Cabinet decision yesterday to push the invasion of Lebanon further north, up to and even beyond the Litani River, left the timing of the operation to the discretion of PM Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz. The idea is to use the threat of Israeli escalation on the ground as leverage to assist the United States in negotiating an acceptable ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council, and to launch the new offensive only if the US fails. [my emphasis --JW]

Many of the ministers who voted yes in the Cabinet would indeed prefer an immediate ceasefire on advantageous terms to a major offensive--even one that causes additional critical damage to Hezbollah. They fear the heavy Israeli losses this would entail. And they particularly fear expanding an occupation of South Lebanon from which Israel may not be able to extract itself without bringing Hezbollah back to our border. This could happen because the Lebanese government proves too weak, the Lebanese Army too fragile, Hezbollah and the Iranian/Syrian bloc that supports it too powerful, and the international community too hesitant to jeopardize its soldiers.

Here the question arises: would Israel and the US be satisfied with the same resolution? There is evidence that Israel, now in its fifth week of war, with human and economic losses piling up, might be prepared to make compromises that the US objects to and that don’t even correspond with UN Security Council Resolution 1559--for example, leaving Hezbollah armed as long as it is positioned far from the Lebanon-Israel border, even though this would negatively affect efforts to truly democratize Lebanon and cleanse it of Syrian influence [....]
Although Alpher doesn't refer to it directly, the background to these latest developments includes the complicated behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations over the UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli/Lebanese crisis. This resolution was drafted and presented jointly by France and the US, but it was met by strong objections from Hezbollah & Arab governments, and the French themselves have backed away from it to a certain degree in recent days (either genuinely or for purposes of diplomatic posturing, or perhaps both), a move that has threatened to torpedo the deal..

What happens next remains unclear. Meanwhile, both of these analyses are worth reading in full. Barkey's piece is below, and Yossi Alpher's is here.

--Jeff Weintraub
August 10, 2006 (Edition 30 Volume 4)
Why a Hizballah defeat is more important for the US than Israel
By Henri J. Barkey

As diplomats look for a way to end the conflict in Lebanon, the US has proven reticent to support an immediate ceasefire that endorses the status quo ante. What most observers have failed to see in Washington's reluctance is how important it is for the US that Israel defeat Hizballah. In fact, a successful conclusion is far more critical for Washington than it is for Israel.

Of course Israel wants to defeat Hizballah. However, what would satisfy Israel may fall short of Washington's greater strategic goals. Israel would accept a severely weakened Hizballah that retreats north concurrently with the deployment of Lebanese and international forces to the border region. As far as Jerusalem is concerned, a Hizballah that remains armed within Lebanon but far away from Israel then becomes a Lebanese problem. The Lebanese will have to decide if they want Iran and Syria to continue supplying a militia within their own sovereign borders. Israel has amply demonstrated its fury and it is unlikely that a Lebanon-based organization will ever again risk a repeat of recent events.

Why would such an outcome fall short for the US? There are two reasons. The first is what can be called the Hizballah model. It represents the nightmarish metamorphosis of a well-supplied and trained militia. If it can work in Lebanon, the model can be emulated elsewhere around the globe.

Consider for one moment what Hizballah has achieved: it has a parallel state structure in Lebanon complete with its own social services and rudimentary revenue collection system. It conducts its own foreign policy and, as events have demonstrated, its decision-making system is unaccountable to the central government. Worse, it has managed to build up a sophisticated arsenal of missiles and other armaments that intimidates the Lebanese army. Arms by themselves do not make the organization. Clearly, Hizballah fighters have been trained at using weapons that no terrorist organization has hitherto acquired or mastered.

It fired two Chinese-designed Iranian-built Silkworm missiles at an Israeli naval vessel. One of the missiles hit its target while the other sunk a nearby commercial vessel. The Silkworm is a weapon that armies use and it boggles the mind that a militia such as Hizballah not only can acquire it but also use it with a modicum of success.

Hizballah is far more sophisticated and entrenched among a supportive population than al-Qaeda. It is impossible to defeat it without inflicting civilian casualties. Therein lies Hizballah's strength; it calculates that the outside world will relent in the face of civilian casualties.

The Hizballah model can easily be exported to other failed or semi-failed states, ranging from Somalia to Sri Lanka, Iraq and Colombia and perhaps even to Pakistan one day. All you need is an external patron willing to invest resources just as Iran has in this case and a supportive population base. One can easily imagine a scenario of a Venezuela-supported FARC in Colombia initiating action against Bogota's southern neighbor, Ecuador or Peru. The Hizballah model completely emasculates the notion that a state is defined by, among other things, its monopoly over the means of violence.

The second reason why Washington wants Hizballah completely defeated is because of Iran's patronage. Bogged down in Iraq, the US is facing an emboldened Iran ready to challenge it at any moment of its own choosing. For Iran, Hizballah is another strategic tool in an asymmetric conflict with the West. Hizballah extends Iran's reach well beyond the immediate region and the Middle East, but also to far-flung places such as the South American continent where it has an entrenched presence in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In Iraq, the Mahdi Army has already modeled itself along Hizballah lines as has Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Any outcome that does not end up with Hizballah's disarmament is another step in the institutionalization of the model under Iranian tutelage.

The US as the sole superpower, which for better or worse also acts as the world's first responder, cannot afford to see the proliferation of Hizballah-like organizations deciding the fate of nations. For the same reasons, it is critical for the international community that UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Hizballah's disarmament and the reinforcement of Lebanese authority, be implemented fully

Henri J. Barkey is chair of the International Relations Department at Lehigh University and a former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff