Bloodying Iran's Foreign Legion

W. Thomas Smith, Jr
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Posted: May 13, 2008 11:48 AM
Bloodying Iran's Foreign Legion

Hezbollah – Iran’s Lebanon-based terrorist legion – may have bitten off more than it can chew in its recent attacks against pro-government forces in Lebanon. They’ve certainly underestimated the tenacity of the latter as evidenced by the underreported head-to-head thrashing Hezbollah is getting in-and-around the Chouf Mountain region, southeast of Beirut. Nevertheless, Hezbollah should never have been able to get away with what it has over the past week; or for that matter, the past 25 years.

Problem is, the legitimate government of Lebanon has given Hezbollah’s dogs too much rope since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, and the legitimate Lebanese army has done virtually nothing to disarm Hezbollah despite the will of the majority of the Lebanese people. Nor has the army (which has received $millions in support from the U.S.) made any substantive attempt to crush the recent terror offensive which began last week after Hezbollah surveillance cameras were discovered at Beirut International Airport, and the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called for the dismantling of Hezbollah’s extensive telecommunications network.

Hezbollah should have long been disarmed under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which call for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon. But the Shiia terrorist group – which receives training and financing by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (approximately $ one-billion, annually, in giant bags stuffed with American cash smuggled over the unchecked Syrian-Lebanese border) and operational support from Syria – says it is not a militia, but a “resistance.” And both the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Gen. Michel Sleiman, and his chief of intelligence, told me in one-on-one meetings last fall, “Hezbollah is a resistance against foreign aggression, and it was here before the army.”

So in the eyes of the senior commander of the legitimate army: Hezbollah has a right – and should continue to have that right – to exist as an Iranian-Syrian proxy army serving an illegitimate Shiia state – the kingdom of Hezbollah – within the sovereign territory of the legitimate state, Lebanon.

That is precisely what we have here, and because of that perceived right – which flies in the face of UN convention – Hezbollah is literally getting away with murder under the guise of “resistance” against foreign aggression.

Of course, the foreign aggression Hezbollah speaks of is the potential threat of Lebanon’s southern neighbor, Israel. But let’s not forget, Hezbollah provoked the summer 2006 war with Israel, and in the wake of the assassination of Hezbollah’s mad-bomber Imad Mughniyeh in February 2008, Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah tauntingly declared “open war” with the Jewish state. Sounds a bit more like defiance than resistance.

Be that as it may, Hezbollah has now gone beyond its self-proclaimed raison d’être, as it has overtly turned its weapons on the Lebanese people. One source in Lebanon telling me that in addition to shooting people, burning property, and systematically destroying newspaper offices and television stations, Hezbollah is arresting people at will, kidnapping others, and forcing their way into the homes of Lebanese civilians without provocation.

The shame of it all is that the army and police have all but refused to confront the group’s aggression, much less challenge its illegitimate authority.

Still, and as I mentioned earlier, Hezbollah may have bitten off more than it can chew:

“Hezbollah is powerful, but so are the Druze and other Lebanese sects,” says Lebanese political analyst Elie Fawaz. “This is what the ferocious fights of the Chouf have proven.”

Fawaz tells me that Hezbollah’s battlefield tactics have proven woefully inadequate against the pro-government forces in the mountains above Beirut. And, he says, those tactics have – in many quarters – backed Hezbollah into strategically difficult positions, compelling the terrorist group to hold covert, indirect talks with members of the pro-democracy March 14 coalition “to get Hezbollah out of the mess it has gotten itself into.”

So far Hezbollah has avoided the largely Christian areas of Lebanon. The group has instead concentrated its offensive operations in west Beirut (which it has now largely withdrawn from), the mountains east of the capital, the Bekaa Valley further east, and in the north in-and-around the city of Tripoli. If Hezbollah has any strategic sense remaining – which I don’t believe it has ever truly possessed – it will keep out of the Christian areas, because it is the Christian areas where the terrorist group will truly take a beating.

As I have said on multiple occasions, Lebanon is a crucial front on the war on terror. The front is now critical. The Lebanese armed forces and the national police have a real opportunity here, as does the Lebanese government and its declared Western allies like the U.S. and France. And unlike the situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan – where the war on terror seems to groan on-and-on – the next several days and weeks may well bring about a dramatic turn of events in Lebanon. And those who are the most committed to their causes are the ones who will gain the upper hand.