May 31, 2008

Hezbollah’s Downfall?

Beirut's David Kenner thinks Hezbollah's latest move will ulimately lead to its downfall.

I think he's right, which is what I was getting at when I wrote in COMMENTARY that Hezbollah's power is now at its apogee. Hassan Nasrallah isn't likely to ever be stronger than he is right now. It's all downhill from here. It would be foolish to expect him to fall in the short or medium term, but Kenner's piece is especially worth reading if you're worried that Lebanon will become the next Gaza.

UPDATE: See also Michael Young's latest column in Beirut's Daily Star, which contains this humorous tidbit: "Thanks to the Israelis, who may soon hand a grand prisoner exchange to Hizbullah, Nasrallah may earn a brief reprieve for his "resistance." It's funny how Hizbullah and Syria, always the loudest in accusing others of being Israeli agents, are the ones who, when under pressure, look toward negotiations with Israel for an exit."

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2008 5:50 PM
Comments
Had Hezbollah gone all the way and taken total control of the country, then perhaps this analysis may be correct.
But they stopped short and permitted their enemies to keep Sanoura in charge.
They made it quite clear that trying to disarm them by force and not an agreed upon dialogue is out of bounds.
If Harriri is wise, which he isn't, he'll go back to the old status quo of leaving hezbollah's arms alone while controlling the rest of the affairs of Lebanon.
Posted by: Joe Rushty at May 31, 2008 6:58 pm
I hear what you're saying, Joe, but here's a question for you: How can Hezbollah ever acquire more power than they currently have without starting a war no one can win? (If the Syrian military ever comes back, all bets are off.)
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2008 7:17 pm
Your point might be right, about Hezbollah achieving the apex of its power, but that is only under the present circumstances. I doubt if Nasrallah's goal is to dominate Lebanon at all, but more to use Lebanon as a stepping stone for attack on Israel.
To me, this simply makes war against Israel that much more inevitable than ever before.
Posted by: Cump at May 31, 2008 7:30 pm
Cump: this simply makes war against Israel that much more inevitable than ever before.
Yes, that's true as well. History isn't over in Lebanon, that's for sure.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2008 7:34 pm
Thanks for the plug, Michael, and for raising this debate.
To Joe: This argument, that Hezbollah would only have damaged itself if it had taken over the government and knocked Siniora from power, has come up a lot. Frankly, I don't get it.
Of course, Hezbollah would have done a lot more damage to its reputation among non-Shia Lebanese if it had stormed the Serail and Qoreitem, and arrested Siniora and Hariri. But the damage they still did was not inconsiderable. Just because Hezbollah contented itself with taking over West Beirut and invading the Chouf does not mean that the rest of Lebanon will soon forget what occurred, or that Hezbollah is perfectly willing to use its arms internally to change the country's political balance. That is a huge development.
Imagine if a foreign militia stormed your neighborhood, killed dozens, and erected their flags throughout your street corners. This sort of damage to the social fabric would have major repercussions, even several years down the road. Yes, Hezbollah could have done more, but what they did still significantly damaged their standing among non-Shia Lebanese.
And, of course, one has to ask why Hezbollah didn't bring down the government by force. There is no doubt they could have. It is because they know perfectly well that doing so would risk massive retaliation from the Sunni, Druze, and Christian communities. The Party of God is very powerful, but it's not omnipotent. Hezbollah is trying to thread a needle: they want to win political concessions by force, but not push the other communities into open rebellion. But the more Hezbollah pushes them, the more the sectarian divide widens, and the more the party's arm their militias. In the long-term, this becomes a game of diminishing returns.
One final point that I think might have been lost: though I believe Hezbollah's days are numbered, it does not follow that I believe a liberal, secular democracy will bloom in Lebanon. I find it more likely that Hezbollah will be brought down by a loose coalition of sectarian forces. These anti-Hezbollah groups feel threatened by the party's weapons, rather than holding any strong affinity to a non-sectarian, democratic, unitary state. Look at Rabih, an anti-Hezbollah Sunni who I interview in the article -- he lives in a neighborhood plastered with Saddam Hussein posters, and his concern is the protection of his neighborhood, not abstract matters of state.
It is our job, as small-l liberals, to not only advocate Hezbollah's downfall, but its replacement by the central government and not just another sectarian militia.
Posted by: David Kenner at June 1, 2008 5:26 am
If Hezbollah remains the organization it was a month ago, I agree that their May putsch represents the peak of its power. Unfortunately Hezbollah is a moving target; it can change and evolve. Maybe Nasrallah will be promoted to martyr and a new face will appear, almost certainly they will change their strategy somehow: I think they see the Doha Agreement as a temporary strategic retreat.
That means in the next few months Hezbollah will acquire new capabilities and dispose of old ones. Their core mission will remain unchanged: to expand the influence of the Iranian mullahs throughout the Middle East as much as possible, under the pretext of "resistance". Hezbollah can be defanged politically be offering the Shia an alternative assuring them that their lives, property, and income won't be unduly affected by Hezbo's departure, but I can't see how the use of force in Lebanon itself can be avoided in dislodging Hezbollah and its deadly activities entirely.
That task can be done either by the Lebanese themselves, by foreigners, or by a combination of the two. These options have been open for nearly two years now. It is a sad commentary on Lebanon's political situation that its politicians refuse to take the initiative, thus guaranteeing that Lebanon's ultimate fate will be dictated by outsiders, rather than Lebanese themselves.
Posted by: Solomon2 at June 1, 2008 9:30 am
I agree w/Solomon2. Hezbollah continues to exist mostly as a proxy for Iran. Iran can keep puffing up Hezbollah as big as it need for whatever it wants done. As you said Michael "If the Syrian military ever comes back, all bets are off." That's a big if.
Posted by: Yehudit at June 1, 2008 9:55 am
This analysis is dreadful, predicated on the presumption that broad-based Lebanese support is a crucial factor in Hezbollah's military power equation. In the real world, of course, Hezbollah only needs the support of their constituency, the Shia, and primary backers, Syria and Iran, to dominate Lebanon. A couple of questions: how do you expect Lebanon to reverse the demographic shift that has brought this situation to where it is now? How do you expect the Sunnis and Christians to (a) get the will to fight the Shia and (b) get the enormous amounts and quality of weaponry needed to fight them? Also, (c) how do you expect them to fight the Shia when their hands will be tied by Western rules of conduct? Finally, who's going to back them...Europe? The U.S? Don't make me laugh....
I say this as an opponent of Hezbollah - but they, unfortunately, know the real life implications of their actions. Neocons like Kenner and Totten do not, blinded by their faith in democracy and Western secular universalism. Hezbollah knows the weakness of both their opponents and their backers and this has enabled them to take the steps it has... with more to come....
On another note, Kenner has a good point that Hezbollah wants to "win political concessions by force, but not push the other communities into open rebellion". The primary reason for this is not, as he claims, that Hezbollah fears civil war, or that broad-based support is militarily necessary for its war against Israel - it's that a key ingredient in Hezbollah's _political formula_ is that they represent the Lebanese people against Israel to the external world, which shields them to a large extent from external pressure when they go about kidnapping soldiers and shooting thousands of missiles into Israel and the like.
Lastly, Solomon writes: "Hezbollah can be defanged politically be offering the Shia an alternative assuring them that their lives, property, and income won't be unduly affected by Hezbo's departure." Bro, let me direct you to here: jihadwatch.com/islam101/ Educate yourself a little on Islam, especially Shiite Islam with a focus on the concepts of Dar al Harb and Dar al Islam, Sharia law, the history of dhimmitude, the return of the Hidden Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi and what is required to bring about his return. Maybe your research will put a dent in your belief that all people are the same and only seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While Islam itself is an aggressive religion, Shia Twelvers are particularly antagonistic.
Posted by: atleus at June 1, 2008 1:23 pm
atleus: Neocons like Kenner and Totten
Let me help you out, since you're obviously new around here.
Talking to me like that tells me that you have little or nothing useful to add, that you're mostly interesting in scoring points in your own head against who you think are your parochial political adversaries.
If I'm reading you wrong, cut it out, because I stopped reading when I reached that sentence.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 1, 2008 1:37 pm
You may be correct about the ideology, atleus, but not about the fanaticism of its putative followers. Before the 2006 war broke out MJT noted just how much Hezbo followers demanded payment in the form of free meals or dollars in exchange for following Hezbollah.
I don't think you've ever lived in or studied or imagined what it is like to live in a police state where the rulers actively try to control people's thoughts. Subjects of such a state develop a two-track mind. Once any initial enthusiasm for the system wears off only fear keeps the police state intact - fear of punishment, either from within or without.
Hezbollah, through its internal "anti-Zionist" campaign, has been strengthening its internal controls since the 2006 War. Although Hezbo has been around for a generation, there are still plenty of people who remember what it was like before Hezbollah existed, and even pass such memories down to their children. Others, knowing how wicked Hezbollah is today, may imagine that the non-Hezbollah Lebanese are angels in comparison.
I suppose you'd never know it by talking to the Shia in southern Lebanon, but I'll bet they hate Hezbollah's leadership now. If you think that's crazy, remember that for the past ten years when reporters knocked on Shia doors and asked about Mughniyah they were met by responses of, "Who?" or "He's not important", yet after his assassination he was hailed as Hezbollah's secret military commander, the author of the 2006 war against Israel and the kidnappings, shootings, and other incidents on the Israel-Lebanon border.
The Shia of Lebanon will stick by the "Shia Twelvers" ideology if they have to. But I'll bet they'd probably prefer to dump it entirely and live in the kind of civil society they know is developing in today's Iraq rather than live a life looking forward to violent death - and beyond that an afterlife that, at best, doesn't include computer games among its limited pleasures.
Posted by: Solomon2 at June 1, 2008 2:09 pm
"I hear what you're saying, Joe, but here's a question for you: How can Hezbollah ever acquire more power than they currently have without starting a war no one can win? (If the Syrian military ever comes back, all bets are off.)"
I don't think they want anymore power. So long as they maintain their arsenal of missiles and have control over the south then they are satisfied.
This is the niche they've developed and I don't think anyone realistically expects the above conditions to change.
Posted by: Joe Rushty at June 2, 2008 6:13 am
"It's funny how Hizbullah and Syria, always the loudest in accusing others of being Israeli agents, are the ones who, when under pressure, look toward negotiations with Israel for an exit.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 2, 2008 10:12 am
"Hmm. It's also funny that when commenters here have advocated negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah or Syria, they're generally denounced by the commentariate hoi polloi as appeasers and apologists. Yet Israel seems to negotiate without much comment."
We're just trying to persecute you, DPU.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at June 3, 2008 11:35 pm
I like most of your stuff Michael, but when it comes to Lebanon you just consistantly get it wrong.
The latest events will not be the end of Hizb'Allah, it is nothing more than another milestone in it's history.
Hizb'Allah, as an organisation, will be here for decades to come. You'll be in your 60's heading to Beirut talking about the newest Hizb activities.
Asking how Hizb'Allah can get more power than they have now is a bit naff. Hizb'Allah, like Sinn Fein and the IRA, have always touted the fact that they will get more done with the birthing rooms than they will with the bullet.
The Shi'ite population is growing much faster in Lebanon, whilst the members of the other sects are immigrating in record numbers.
You'll be in Lebanon in the years to come and the Shi'ite representation in the government will only grow as their numbers do.
But hey, that is democracy! As your numbers grow, so does your power and influence in the government.
Who would have thought 30 years ago we'd have a black candidate for President with a better than 50-50 chance of winning?
When you head back to Lebanon in the decades to come Michael you'll see a Shi'ite leader of Lebanon, with a Shi'ite controlled law making body. That is what demographics say, and that is how democracy works.
One person, one vote. A grand idea. Too bad people only support the concept when THEIR side is the one that is likely to win.
If the other sects of Lebanon dont like it, do something about it in a democratic way. Stop immigrating and get down to some good ole' "nique-nique" as they say in the Gulf.
Posted by: Marc at June 4, 2008 8:04 am
Marc,
You'll be in your 60's heading to Beirut talking about the newest Hizb activities.
I hope you're wrong, but if not, hey, job security for me.
It won't surprise me in the least if Hezbollah exists as a regular political party when I'm sixty. If they're still killing people then, that will surprise me quite a lot. Someone is likely to pull the plug on them once and for all before then if they keep this up.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 4, 2008 10:53 am
Gary: We're just trying to persecute you, DPU.
Just making a corresponding counter-observation, Gary. No need to lash out, I didn't intend to hurt your feelings or anything.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 4, 2008 2:22 pm
Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at June 5, 2008 12:41 am
Ditto.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 5, 2008 1:08 pm
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