Day: August 9, 2016

Hezbollah in Syria

The Washington Post piece I published July 28 on forcing Hezbollah out of the fight in Syria either diplomatically or, if that fails, militarily has gotten mixed reactions, at best. Here are some criticisms I care to reply to:

  1. Many retweeted the false allegation that I had advocated bombing Lebanon (even that I had advocated bombing civilians in Lebanon). The op/ed was clearly directed at Hezbollah’s presence inside Syria and advocated getting its forces to withdraw to Lebanon. At no time did I advocate bombing civilians either in Lebanon or in Syria. This false allegation was clearly intended to obscure the main point I had made: that Hezbollah is itself a terrorist group that should not be in Syria, even if you think it has an appropriate role in Lebanon.
  2. Quite a few interpreted my piece as pro-Israel, some explicitly referring to my being Jewish. This of course ignores the fact that Israelis might not appreciate the Hezbollah retaliation I mentioned as likely. It also helps anti-Semites to put people in predetermined boxes, making further thinking or discussion unnecessary. The fact is Hezbollah would represent more of a threat to Israel if it were not fighting against Syrians. It will emerge from Syria significantly diminished in manpower and political traction in Lebanon, though with enhanced military experience.
  3. Some thought my proposition would be not be consistent with international law. This is a more worthy critique. International law does permit self-defense, but it has been some time since Hezbollah killed Americans, so far as I know. There is, however, no international statute of limitations, in particular on mass murder. Is the US not entitled to respond to the murder of 241 Marines because more than 30 years have passed? The US killed Osama bin Laden more than 9 years after 9/11. How many more years before we forget about mass murder? Hezbollah has sworn enmity to the US. Are we not permitted to take them seriously and try to prevent further harm to our citizens?
  4. Others alleged that my proposal would spread the Syrian war. This too is worthy of consideration, but I fail to see how my proposal would necessarily make things worse. If Assad and his allies continue to make progress and in particular if opposition-held neighborhoods in Aleppo were to fall, more Syrians would flee to neighboring countries, not fewer. It is certainly arguable that some significant portion of the 7 million and more Syrians who have already become refugees are attributable to Hezbollah. How many more will Hezbollah cause to flee if it is not prevented from assaulting civilians?
  5. Some asked whether we shouldn’t be happy Hezbollah is fighting the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. While Hezbollah does fight jihadis associated with both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, its presence in Syria is also an important recruiting tool for Sunni extremists, who are delighted to have the civilian population Hezbollah attacks mobilized to take up arms in self-defense. Killing civilians and calling them terrorists is not a viable strategy to counter violent extremism.

Assad helped to create the Islamic State in Iraq after the 2003 American invasion, when he funneled jihadi fighters into Iraq to resist the Americans. Early in the 2011 revolution, he also released extremists from Syrian prisons, in an effort to ensure that the only choice Syrians and the international community would have was between him and the terrorists. He is close to fulfilling that prophecy. The longer the war goes on, the less space there is for non-extremists. Allowing Hezbollah to continue to fight in Syria helps not only Assad but also the most extreme elements opposing him. It also postpones any political settlement, which is what is really needed.

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