Friday, March 11, 2005

Wither Hizballah?

There's a continuing debate over the potential consequences of Syria's planned pull-out Lebanon. Several bloggers, including your humble correspondent, have argued that the withdrawal will weaken Syria, and its terrorist ally, Hizballah.

However, other analysts paint a different picture. NRO has an interview with Barbara Newman, who is an expert on the terrorist group, its organization and its deadly history. Ms. Newman argues that Hizballah has grown increasingly stronger over the past 10 years, and could easily fill the power vaccum created by a Syrian withdrawal.

I concur with Ms. Newman on a couple of points. First, it is unlikely that Syria will ever completely leave Lebanon. A total withdrawal would be interpreted as a sign of weakness in Damascus (and elsewhere), and Bashir Assad's days would be numbered. There are alreay indications that Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) is making plans to preserve their presence in Lebanon, as a means for influencing events.

Secondly, Ms. Newman is correct in noting that Hizballah's strength has increased steadily in recent years, and it is capable of defeating local militias and the Lebanese Army. But without an active Syrian presence, Hizballah would face an increasingly hostile populace, and the prospect of possible Israeli military action. While many Israelis have bitter memories of the 1982 Lebanese invasion, those concerns would be trumped by an unpalatable prospect: a Hizballah-controlled state on their northern border. There's also a large American military presence in the region, and those assets could also be employed against Hizaballah, should the group launch attacks inside the U.S.

Hizballah is a formidable terrorist threat, but it is not unbeatable. And any loss of Syrian support in Lebanon would weaken the group's position on its home turf, the very place where it cannot afford a loss of support or power. If that happens, Hizballah could strike at our homeland. But that would be a grave mistake. Hizballah will find the U.S. is a different adversary than the one it faced in the 1980s, when it blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut, and murdered American hostages with relative impunity. The times are changing, and not necessarily to Hizballah's benefit.

No comments: