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Don't Worry if Hezbollah Wins…

JINSA Report #: 

June 2, 2009

Worry if it loses.

Vice President Biden went to Lebanon to support the pro-Western Siniora side of the hybrid Lebanese government. It is a hybrid because Hezbollah shot its way into a veto-power position in the Lebanese Cabinet last year. Mr. Biden told Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, an ally of Hezbollah, "We will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates."

He meant that if Hezbollah wins a majority, the United States would have to re-evaluate the millions of dollars our government is spending arming and training the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The United States cannot support a military controlled by the organization that killed 241 United States Marines, and gruesomely murdered Col. Rich Higgins, James Buckley and U.S. Navy Diver Robert Stethem.

But in Lebanon, winning won't be the goal if losing the election leaves you in a better position to win the war. Winning makes you responsible, and Hezbollah has learned that responsibility can be painfully counterproductive.

Hezbollah was the sole military power in the southern part of Lebanon in June 2006. Having initiated a direct attack on Israel, it suffered a major military setback when the Israeli government responded in force. Regardless of the difficulties the IDF encountered from its point of view, it succeeded in changing the situation on the ground through an expanded UNIFIL and the introduction of the LAF to the south. Both provide some level of deterrent to Hezbollah activities against Israel, as seen during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza in December and January.

Cast Lead was also an object lesson for Hezbollah. Hamas was the sole military/political power in Gaza. When Israel couldn't tolerate the rain of rockets and mortars Hamas had been launching against its civilian population, the Israeli government acted to degrade both Hamas leadership and its arsenal.

So Hezbollah found a different mechanism for pursuing its war against Israel. Since 2006, Hezbollah has worked out a collaborative mechanism with the LAF in southern Lebanon (including having local Shiites join the LAF, so there are brothers and cousins on both sides of the equation), and the LAF has a collaborative mechanism with UNIFIL and a separate cooperative relationship with the United States. The LAF and UNIFIL both insist they see no evidence of Hezbollah rearming, and that suits the United States - although it doesn't do much for the long-term security of Israel.

If Hezbollah wins the election, the United States will have to restrict its dealings with the government. But if the Siniora forces win a plurality and Hezbollah comes in 5-10 percentage points lower, Hezbollah will be able to claim minority status while pursuing its long-term agenda. Claiming that Hezbollah isn't actually in charge would allow the United States to continue providing economic aid to Lebanon and arming and training the LAF. That would suit Hezbollah and suit the United States - although it doesn't do much for the long-term security of Israel.

And it will likely destroy any remaining hopes for the long-term prospects of Lebanon as a pluralistic, pro-Western, democratic country.

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