Re: Hezbollah endures in Lebanon
- From: josephmouhanna@xxxxxxxxx
- Date: 20 Apr 2006 01:00:39 -0700
There's one minor, yet significant error in this report: the trucks
carrying arms and ammo were permitted to cross following intervention
from the Minister of Defense, not the Prime Minister.
Hezbollah endures in Lebanon
Islamic guerrillas not easily disarmed, Western nations find
By Christine Spolar
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published April 19, 2006
BEIRUT -- There are two fighting forces in Lebanon: the army and
Hezbollah. A paramount question on Lebanon's political horizon is
whether these fighters -- conventional forces and guerrillas--can ever
The United States, Britain and France were asked quietly by Lebanese
leaders last year to assess how Lebanon's armed forces could be
modernized. Their first response, gleaned from recent interviews with
U.S., British and Lebanese military and diplomats, was simple, if deeply
Lebanon needed to define all potential threats. Would they include
Israel, which shares a contentious border with Lebanon? Would they
include Syria, which is blamed for cross-border meddling? Were there any
risks from Lebanon's sectarian and religious groups, including
Hezbollah? How worrisome was the threat of terrorism across the region?
Western benefactors were angling, in part, to adjust Lebanon's military
goals with an infusion of aid. Terrorism, they said, was an increasing
threat, and Lebanon needed to be better trained for it.
Hezbollah fighters--local Islamists aligned with Iran and Syria who see
Israel as a common enemy--were portrayed by Westerners and some Lebanese
politicians as part of the terrorist threat. The idea of disarming
Hezbollah was raised as a possible priority, and it was placed on the
agenda of the nation's historic roundtable political talks.
But weeks of political jockeying have left Hezbollah unshaken. Its
irregular fighters, thousands of whom can be called on to man its
outposts on Lebanon's southern border with Israel, continue to operate
independently. And as the Lebanese central government struggles with
simmering ethnic, tribal and religious rivalries, Hezbollah endures.
General: `We need them'
Even the head of Lebanon's armed forces, who concedes that he could use
more Western aid to train and equip his 45,000 troops, is loath to
abandon what he described as a nimble corps essential to Lebanon's
"We need them," Gen. Michel Sleiman said of Hezbollah's fighters during
an interview at the military command in Yarzeh, east of Beirut. "Israel
is our enemy . . . and [Hezbollah] provides specific operations and
abilities that, in general, [are] not provided by anyone in the army.
"We are not talking about Hezbollah as a strange foreign entity here,"
Sleiman added. "We are talking about Lebanese people who provide a
resistance. . . . We have in Hezbollah brothers and relatives of those
who serve in the army."
The dilemma over Hezbollah highlights the contradictions involved in the
Bush administration's efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East.
Hezbollah is a political group with an armed wing, operating much like
the radical Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
Hezbollah, which means "Party of God," last year gained in parliamentary
elections that were heralded as a democratic spring in Lebanon.
Hezbollah is an avowed enemy of Israel; Israel is a staunch ally of the
The group appeals to many in Lebanon's large religious Shiite
population. It also provides a wide range of social services in Lebanon,
like Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But its border
control--and efforts that helped end Israeli troop occupation in
southern Lebanon in 2000--drives much of its popularity.
Washington designated Hezbollah a terror group decades ago for deadly
violence during Lebanon's civil war. Hezbollah and its affiliates were
blamed for attacks in the 1980s against a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut
and a TWA jet. In the early 1990s, they were suspected in bombings of an
Israeli embassy and a Jewish center in Argentina.
U.S. missions in Jordan, Egypt and their neighbors today are primed
toward anti-terror efforts. In its assessment of Lebanon, U.S. advisers
found the small country's military ill-equipped for most terror threats.
Confront or accommodate?
Hezbollah was among those threats raised by a top U.S. military planner
involved in the review. "In our minds, [Lebanon's army] sooner or later
will have to stand up to the armed branch of Hezbollah," said Brig. Gen.
Mark Kimmitt, a strategist at the U.S. Central Command.
That vision bends political reality for many Lebanese military and
political observers, even those seeking disarmament. Instead of
confronting Hezbollah, the army would likely have to accommodate it,
One option mentioned in several interviews was to disband Hezbollah's
forces but absorb some fighters as a border patrol.
Sleiman shied away from possible alternatives and said no "specific
vision" was defined for Hezbollah gunmen.
"But we cannot see it as a separate force," he added. "We cannot have
a special group inside the army."
Asked about Hezbollah and terrorism, Sleiman said outsiders tend to see
Hezbollah through memories of civil war. Before 1990, many militias
existed that were accused of terrorism, he said.
"What is the present-day Hezbollah?" he added. "The present-day
Hezbollah doesn't conduct terrorist operations. It only operates in the
south along the border with Israel."
Sleiman, a career army man who rarely gives interviews, was frank about
the army's relationship with Hezbollah. There is little conflict over
operations, he said. Hezbollah "doesn't directly inform authorities
[about activities] but they know the danger and the risks," he said.
"They act in the national interest."
Detractors estimate that massive amounts of Iranian cash--which some
sources put at tens of millions of dollars a month--stoke Hezbollah's
arsenal. It has automatic weapons and mobile rocket launchers far
superior to those of Lebanon's army.
Hezbollah fighters also apparently transport weapons freely into
Lebanon, as recently revealed in Lebanese media reports of a convoy from
Twelve trucks, stocked with weapons, were stopped by a suspicious army
border control. The trucks were then permitted to pass with approval
from Lebanon's prime minister--an account he later confirmed to the media.
Concern over terror cells
The U.S., Britain and France and increasingly Egypt and Saudi Arabia are
concerned about possible infiltration of terror cells into Lebanon.
Lebanon has porous land borders and a coastline that drug traffickers
already exploit. Recent political upheaval added to its problems.
Syria, which long influenced politics and security in Lebanon, was
forced by Lebanese protests to remove troops and intelligence agents
last spring. Lebanon has since relied on its own military and a poorly
defined intelligence structure.
Sleiman said he agreed with those who worry about Lebanon's weaknesses.
U.S. advisers were correct to envision improvements, he said, but to him
"they never mentioned Hezbollah when they came."
"To the contrary," he said, "they said they were looking for democracy."
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