The Magazine

Justice for Hezbollah

Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By LEE SMITH
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It was because American officials did not want to challenge Hezbollah that they welcomed the analysis of Middle East experts who told them Hezbollah was nothing to worry about anyway. By integrating itself into Lebanon’s political system, said the experts, Hezbollah ceased to be a terrorist organization. Sure, up until 2000 it fought Israel in southern Lebanon, but that was as a resistance movement determined to compel the occupying force to withdraw. Yes, Hezbollah was affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran, but that doesn’t mean it does Iran’s bidding, assured the regional analysts. It has its own constituency in the Shia community, to whom it delivers social services, while respecting Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance. 

The past decade has shown how ludicrous this “Lebanonization” thesis always was. Hezbollah never stopped its terrorist attacks. As recently as last July it blew up a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Closer to home, it targeted its domestic rivals in spectacular operations, like the car bombing that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others on a Beirut street in 2005. In 2006, Hezbollah dragged the country into a war with Israel, incurring billions of dollars worth of damage. And in the fight for Qusayr, Hezbollah has shown that its supposed mission of “resistance” to Israel is just a politically convenient pose; it is in fact an armed wing of the Iranian regime and now ships its fighters off to Syria to kill Sunni Arabs at the behest of its masters in Tehran. 

The State Department has condemned Hezbollah’s role in Syria’s war “in the strongest terms”—as if that matters. In fact, the administration should welcome Hezbollah’s deployment of forces as an opportunity to break its back. Hezbollah is unlikely to continue to absorb as many casualties as it did in Qusayr last week. But neither will it be able to recruit and replenish its fighting forces as readily as it did after its losses in the 2006 war with Israel. It’s estimated that Hezbollah lost as many as 600 fighters seven years ago, and many of their inexperienced replacements are among the fallen in Qusayr. 

In defending Assad in Syria, Hezbollah has become vulnerable on its home front in Lebanon. There the party prepares for another round of hostilities with Israel and, perhaps more important, watches its back as other Lebanese communities sharpen their knives in anticipation of Hezbollah’s stumbling. With the group’s resources already stretched thin, the Obama administration should see this as an opportunity. A president who prides himself on personally picking drone targets and killing Osama bin Laden should have no problem settling an account long overdue. It’s time to rain some justice on Hezbollah.

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