Pressure Needed From Regional Players To Rein In Hizballah
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
January 23, 2003 Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - While attentions in the Middle East have focused on the
looming crisis in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli elections, Hizballah
still poses a great threat to northern Israel and could attack when the Iraqi crisis comes
to a head, a reserve Israeli military intelligence officer said this week. Washington is
concerned about keeping a lid on the Palestinian violence as well as keeping Israel's
northern border quiet ahead of an expected U.S.-led offensive against Iraq. But Hizballah
will be deterred from attacking northern Israel only if Iran, Syria and Lebanon - none of
which have friendly relations with Israel - pressure the militant organization.
Hizballah, which is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, is based in
southern Lebanon and backed by Syria and Iran - with whom it shares the same militant
revolutionary Shiite Islamic theology.
The militant Islamic organization has both the will and the capability to attack Israel,
and it can be prevented from doing so only if its state patrons come under enough regional
and international pressure to force the organization to be quiet, reserve Col. Dr. Eran
Lerman told a briefing for diplomats and journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs this week. There is no negotiating with Hizballah, Lerman said. The terrorist
organization has at its very foundations "Islamic revolution in its purist
form," which is actually more revolutionary, dressed in Shiite Islamic garb, he said.
From its point of view, Hizballah is the only revolutionary "success story, "
having been able to drive the Israeli army out of southern Lebanon.
Never mind that isn't actually why Israel left southern Lebanon after 18 years of
maintaining a security zone there, Lerman said; that is the way Hizballah has spun the
story to the Arab world. "[Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah definitely is
not going to trade his self-image of being the one successful revolutionary movement that
has driven the Zionists out, without an agreement, without anything," he said.
The ability to spin the unilateral Israeli withdrawal in May 2000 to their advantage also
"has had a direct impact on the minds of the Palestinian leadership...who decided not
just to launch a new "intifadah" but to militarize it... That was a decision
directly colored by the message of Hizballah," Lerman said.
Nasrallah has also made it clear that Hizballah "will never, never agree to live side
by side with the filthy bacterial growth Israel, the cancerous entity...and there's a
divine promise to see this cancerous growth destroyed and this is the mission. When they
are talking about Jerusalem, they mean Jerusalem," he said. Hizballah is also very
well armed with hundreds of 107mm rockets that can be launched from anywhere and dozens of
short-range missiles that are capable of doing extensive damage and harm to most of
northern Israel. Although Hizballah has carried out a number of deadly cross-border
attacks since May 2000 and frequently fires rockets at Israeli positions along the border,
it has not used its full capabilities.
But according to Lerman, Hizballah is not afraid of Israel's military might as such, but
is constrained by other regional factors, that is, pressure from Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
Even though Hizballah has the largest single bloc as a political party in the Lebanese
parliament, it does not have the overall backing of the Lebanese people. The Lebanese are
more interested in building their nation and economy than in waging a revolutionary war
against Israel, Lerman said.
"The Hizballah is aware that this sufferance is tenuous and if they actually go
beyond a certain line and provoke a massive Israeli reaction that disrupts and destroys
everything [Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri has been trying to build over the last
few years, they might suffer the consequences," he said. Israel has warned that it
holds Lebanon and Syria responsible for Hizballah attacks and will retaliate accordingly.
It has done so several times in the past. Syria is held somewhat at bay by conventional
deterrence, Lerman said. "That has acted also to modify and restrain Hizballah on a
day-to-day basis." Iran and Hizballah also have turned some of their attention
towards enabling the Palestinians to carry out terror attacks within the West Bank and
Gaza Strip and Israel.
"Essentially the Iranian establishment is more focused now on providing and pushing
forward the terrorist organizations in the Palestinian arena, with Hizballah more or less
as backers, sometimes suppliers," Lerman said. Hizballah has a long history of
international terror attacks, including the deaths of hundreds of Americans - long before
the U.S was spurred into its war on terrorism by the al Qaeda attacks on New York and
In 1983, Hizballah was blamed for the bombings of the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Marine Corps
and French army compounds in Beirut, which left at least 260 Americans and 60 French dead.
"Hassan Nasrallah and his right-hand-man Imad Munir were in the business of killing
and maiming Americans, quite frankly, when bin Laden was still taking CIA money to kill
Russians in Afghanistan, and this is an open account, unsettled as yet," Lerman said.
Hizballah and Iran also have been linked to fund raising in Canada, Australia and North
Carolina as well as two major terror attacks on the Jewish Agency and Israeli Embassy in
Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1990s that left hundreds dead and wounded. But the
"bigger question" ultimately, Lerman said, is whether Hizballah's position in
Lebanon can be changed and "whether there will be a change in Iranian patterns of
behavior following the resolution of the Iraqi crisis." "Ultimately I would
expect them [Hizballah] to be targeted," Lerman said.
"For this to happen, first of all, Syrian attitudes will need to change...As for
Iran, this is of course the $64,000 question about the future of the region," he
said. For that to happen it will require a firm message from Washington to Tehran, warning
Iran of what it should not do unless it wants to become the next target in the war on
terrorism. In a speech last year, President Bush lumped Iran together with Iraq and North
Korea as part of the "axis of evil."
"I don't think it's impossible to prevent Hizballah from going off," Lerman
said. It can be subdued temporarily, he said. "But it will require a very firm
message from all Israelis and I think we've heard this message very clearly from all sides
of the political divide and from elements beyond Israel, the Americans and importantly
enough other Arabs.