An Uncertain Ceasefire Takes Hold in Lebanon
At 8:00 A.M. on the morning of Monday, August 14, Israel and Hezbollah ended 34 days of violence with a UN-brokered cease-fire. The cease-fire was but one stipulation of United Nations Resolution 1701, which the Security Council passed unanimously on August 11. The UN drafted and approved Resolution 1701 with the good intention of improving stability in Lebanon by disarming Hezbollah.
Unfortunately, the United Nations cannot make good on its good intention because Resolution 1701 is riddled with its signature naiveté. The resolution treats Hezbollah as independent of both the Lebanese and Iranian states, despite the fact that Hezbollah draws its power from intimate ties to both Beirut and Tehran. Considering these connections, Resolution 1701’s commitments to strengthening the Lebanese Government and avoiding confrontation with Iran are ineffectual in challenging Hezbollah.
The root of Resolution 1701’s first shortcoming lies in a muddled UN view that Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema captures quite succinctly: “This UN force is there to strengthen the Lebanese government. We hope Hezbollah transforms into a legitimate political movement.” In truth, Hezbollah is already far more than a legitimate political movement—it is the core of Lebanon’s government.
Fourteen of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s Parliament belong directly to Hezbollah, but the terrorist organization’s influence extends well beyond these official ties. Hezbollah is the backbone to Lebanon’s main political organization, the Amal Party. Hezbollah’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah recently allied with Amal Party head Nabih Berry to become a potent force in Lebanese government. The Amal-Hezbollah alliance captured 35 Parliament seats in the 2005 elections. Berry is the current Parliamentary speaker, granting him considerable control over Lebanese parliamentary proceedings.
The U.S. Department of State estimates Hezbollah controls 3,000 loyal, full-time soldiers in Lebanon. The Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan research institute, contends that this force easily overpowers the Lebanese Army, especially because a significant fraction of Lebanese soldiers are also Hezbollah sympathizers. Hezbollah’s military advantages amount to enormous sway in Lebanese politics. Hisham Melhem of the Beirut newspaper An Nahar asserts, “They have veto power on the decision-making process and practically today nothing can be done in Lebanon officially without Hezbollah sanctioning it.”
The crux of Resolution 1701 is monetary and military aid to strengthen the Lebanese Government “in its seven-point plan, to extend its authority over its territory.” This policy is obviously nonsensical because it is inconceivable to funnel the disarmament of Hezbollah through the same political system the terrorist organization has succeeded at dominating. Even the most conservative estimates of Hezbollah’s power allow that it has significant control over resources that pass through the government. Given this influence, the UN’s strategy in Lebanon under Resolution 1701 essentially amounts to handing Hezbollah money and asking it to disarm itself.
Resolution 1701’s second failure is ignoring the source of Hezbollah’s arms cache, Iran. The document makes no mention of Lebanon’s controversial neighbor. Shutting Iran out of a plan to disarm Hezbollah is egregiously shortsighted.
International sources—the news departments of CNN, ABC, and CBS, et cetera—widely agree that Iran feeds Hezbollah upwards of $250 million in direct funding annually. This may be an overestimation, but the low-end estimate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies places Iranian aid to Hezbollah at a quite considerable $50 million annually. Even according to this most conservative figure, Iran spends, as a fraction of GDP, nearly three times as much arming Hezbollah as the United States spends arming the Marine Corps under the 2005 Navy budget. This astonishing comparison exposes the hopelessness of disarming Hezbollah with a strategy that does not include Iran.
Resolution 1701’s proposal to strengthen the Lebanese Government is a backward approach to controlling the rapid influx of Iranian weaponry through Syria into Lebanon, which the Center for Strategic and International Studies places above 10,000 rockets in 2006. Building the infrastructure necessary to give UN peacekeepers even a slim chance at policing Lebanon’s 233-mile border with Syria would require years, and millions of dollars. It is truly baffling that the UN neglected to challenge Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah. Resolution 1701 is more an appeal to the UN’s hyper-non-confrontationalism than a legitimate strategy for disarming Hezbollah.
Resolution 1701’s inadequacies are a manifestation of the international community’s frustrating insistence on separating terrorist organizations from the states that host and fund them. An entity that controls 35 seats in a legitimate state’s elected government cannot be considered independent of that state, yet the UN distinguishes Hezbollah with the Government of Lebanon. An entity that receives millions of dollars from a legitimate state cannot be considered independent of that state, yet the UN ignores Hezbollah’s connections to Iran. Resolution 1701 is a disappointing reminder of why politically active, state-funded terrorist organizations like Hezbollah will continue to thrive in the 21st century: fostering terrorism offers the potential to inflict mass casualties with impunity.