Analysis of Near East policy from the scholars and associates of The Washington Institute. Nervous…
Lebanon. Certain Lebanese leaders have already begun to question seemingly accepted assumptions. For example, on April 25, Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri stated that “the leaderships in Syria and Lebanon have enough wisdom to avoid a showdown and preserve their higher interests,” adding that “it’s time to sit down with the American administration and put all the cards on the table.” For Hizballah, such statements indicate that the Lebanese government is challenging its legitimacy and rescinding its “free ticket” to take action against Israel.
Syria. One of the main issues in the new dialogue between Syria and the United States is the war on terror. On April 30, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated, “Saddam’s downfall is a clear signal to Syria that the international community is about to lose its patience with countries supporting terrorism. . . . We have emphasized strongly our concern about continuing terrorist activities of Hizballah in the region and around the world.” After meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Asad, Powell called on Lebanon to send its army to the border with Israel and “end armed Hizballah militia incursions.” Although it is difficult to get a response from Damascus on this issue, Buthaina Shaaban, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, did say that Asad “discussed all issues within the framework of achieving a comprehensive peace process.” If decisive steps are indeed taken, Hizballah will view these developments as a sign that Syria may sharply restrict its freedom of action.
Iran. Hashmi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president who remains a major political figure, stated on April 12 that “Iran’s resumption of ties with the U.S. could be put to referendum. . . . [W]e should not be biased. We have lost many opportunities in the past, we have made inappropriate measures [regarding these relations].” For Hizballah, such a radical change in Iran’s ties with Washington could mean a loss of support from Tehran.
France. Historically, France has been less harsh than the United States toward Hizballah. On April 30, however, Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin called for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and deployment of the Lebanese army along the border with Israel: “Peace is possible between Lebanon and Israel. Resolution 425 has been implemented. No alibis should be employed to delay this peace, not even the Shabaa farms excuse.” Such statements indicate that Hizballah is losing international legitimacy for its claim that it is confronting a continuing Israeli occupation.
Palestinians. The new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen), has spoken out publicly about his intention to halt terrorist attacks against Israel (e.g., at the swearing in of his government on April 29). Because much of Hizballah’s platform rests on support for Palestinian violence, this emphasis on nonviolence in the Palestinian government is a threat to the organization’s legitimacy as a liberator.
Hizballah as “Hizb”
Hizballah as “Allah”
Hizballah also tries to present its fate as linked to that of Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians: On April 22, Nasrallah stated, “Now Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine are one issue, one question, one cause, one objective.” Three days later, he warned the United States not to attack Syria or Lebanon: “I am not saying we can prevent our enemy from entering our country; I’m saying that if they [Americans] do this they will pay a heavy price for it. . . . [W]e will fight to last breath, last drop of blood, and last bullet. They will literally be mauled.” Three days after that, Hizballah claimed that it protected Syria from Israeli aggression: “South Lebanon will remain a field that protects Syria.” Regarding the Palestinian issue, Nasrallah has rejected negotiations and called for more resistance: “The path of resistance in Lebanon and the path of resistance in Palestine are the correct paths, the paths of true religion, of right, glory, dignity, freedom, and liberation. . . . [T]hese resistance movements were established from day one on the bases of jihad, steadfastness, and sacrifice.”
Lt. Col. Yoram Yoffee (IDF) is a visiting military fellow at The Washington Institute.