Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Second Lebanon War: Moshe Yaalon
Part 3
New Jihadi Threats to the Regional Order and International State System

The Second Lebanon War also represents the development of several new types of strategic threats to the regional state system. First, rogue states such as Iran and Syria have become architects of what can be called the "terror state within a state" model. Hizbullah and Hamas, both leading Iranian proxies, are examples of sub-state and quasi-state organizations, respectively, that have essentially "kidnapped" their weak host governments – Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, respectively – from which they have operated with impunity. The same kind of terror blackmail relationship between al-Qaeda and its Saudi Arabian hosts has existed since the late 1980s. This model has also taken root in such weak states as Yemen and Afghanistan. The Taliban Mujahideen regime had simply cannibalized the Afghan government, until the U.S. invasion that followed the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

In Lebanon, Hizbullah has become a "state within a state" due to massive political and military backing from Syria and Iran. Prior to the summer 2006 war the Lebanese government had allowed Hizbullah to operate from its sovereign soil as a quid pro quo for Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's agreement not to attack targets in Lebanon. This blackmail relationship resulted in Hizbullah's "protection" of the Lebanese central government. However, this unstable relationship unraveled in November 2006 when Hizbullah's two government ministers resigned as part of an Iranian- and Syrian-backed efforttotopple the Seniora government, dissolve the parliament, and assert Hizbullah control over all of Lebanon.

Aside from its broad political influence in Lebanon, Hizbullah's fighting capabilities have raised its stature well beyond that of a terror organization. It should be more accurately characterized as a heavily armed and highly disciplined military force that operates with sophisticated Syrian and Iranian weaponry, and high quality command and control assistance and training by the IRGC.

Hizbullah, therefore, via its political and military infrastructures, benefits from a de facto status as a full state actor, without the commensurate responsibility and accountability to the international state system. That fact was well
reflected in its decisionon July12, 2006, to attack Israel without the permission of, or notice to, its democratically elected Lebanese host government. In short, Hizbullah exploits the international state system by agreeing to cease-fire negotiations opposite Israel, but does not bear any of the legal, political and diplomatic accountability as does its sovereign Lebanese host.

Another type of threat to the regional state system has arisen in the Palestinian Authority, a weak quasi-state actor. Since January 2006, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hamas has taken control. Ironically, however, Hamas' official policy of refusing to recognize Israel and its engaging in terror against the Jewish state has strengthened Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' case for international sympathy and support. His claims that he is too weak to enforce law and order and turn back Hamas' terror policy without external support may or may not be true. Various PA security forces have a combined strength of nearly 50,000 men. However, Abbas was described recently by a senior Fatah PA security official as someone who "could not move a tea cup from one side of a table to the other without expressing the fear that the cup might tip over."

Whether Abbas lacks the required power or simply the political will to neutralize local Islamic terror groups and stabilize the Palestinian areas, his professed weakness opposite Hamas and other Jihadi militias, particularly in Gaza, has helped him maintain broad international support. For example, Abbas has parlayed his policy of weakness into a source of political strength with the Bush administration. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lavished praise on Abbas on October 11, 2006, before a leading Palestinian-American group, reiterating her "personal commitment" to his leadership and his efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

Abbas is not alone in his using this strategic option. Former PA leader Yasser Arafat also employed this strategy effectively during the Oslo years from 1993 to 2000. Arafat had consistently argued that he lacked the ability to rein in Hamas. Abbas also discovered that it pays for him to avoid risking all out confrontation and possible civil war with Hamas. Abbas' declared weakness also protects him in the international community, which continues to concede to Jihadi groups by demonstrating patience, tolerance and understanding for weak states such as Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. These states do not prevent terror activity from being planned and executed from within their borders, and then reject the basic standards of international accountability to which they must be held, but from which they continue to be excused.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Seniora also won the same type of international sympathy for his inability to disarm Hizbullah. Instead of holding Seniora accountable for allowing an Iranian proxy group to operate from within sovereign Lebanon, the international community actively engaged Lebanon and Hizbullah in frantic UN-sponsored diplomacy to end hostilities, broker a cease-fire and deploy 15,000 UN forces in southern Lebanon. This was a strategic error by the West. The international community should have established collective "red lines" and demonstrated Unified political determination with respect to Hizbullah, as it did when it lent its full backing and international legal force to the Seniora government to expel the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005. Had it succeeded this time around, the international community could have impressed upon Seniora and the Lebanese government that it would have no alternative but to summon the same political and military will to disarm Hizbullah as it did in evicting Syrian troops from Lebanon.

The same lesson applies to the PA's Abbas. International aid to the Palestinians should have been conditioned on Hamas disarming before the Palestinian elections in January 2006. If the international community establishes an international code of conduct and mobilizes to enforce it, weak host countries could well discover previously unrealized political and military strength in the interest of national self-preservation.

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