September 29, 2006

Lebanon-Israel: Nasrallah Makes it Clear

On September 22, an estimated 800,000 Lebanese - that's almost a quarter of the population of the country - attended a rally in Beirut in support of Hizballah. Hizballah leader Shaykh Sayid* Hasan Nasrallah made his first public appearance since the five-week war between Hizballah and Israeli forces.

More important than Nasrallah's appearance were his words. Even if his appearance was somewhat of a surprise, his message was not. Despite the fact that he has declared victory over the Israelis, he remains mostly in hiding out of fear of an Israeli attack. There is probably good reason for that. At least one member of the Israeli cabinet has renewed calls for his assassination.

As for his message, he reiterated his previous positions. First, he declared that he would not release the two captured Israeli soldiers unless it was part of a larger prisoner exchange for Lebanese held by the Israelis. This is direct contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 - quote: "including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers."

It gets better. Nasrallah stated that Hizballah would neither disarm nor disband, again in contravention of 1701 - quote: "there will be no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon," and "require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State."

He went on to say that Hizballah was still in possession of 20,000 rockets. This is a much larger number than Israel believed the militia had in its arsenal. Israeli estimates were that Hizballah had as many as 13,000, and perhaps almost half had been used or destroyed in the conflict. Nasrallah also gloated that regardless of any kind of blockade, Hizballah would still maintain (and no doubt restock) its arsenal.

Although 1701 called for Hizballah to withdraw north of the Litani River, Nasrallah's comments left little doubt that he has no intention of complying with this provision either. He implied that international forces should stay clear of Hizballah positions, but did welcome the deployment of the Lebanese Army south of the Litani. That makes sense. International forces may feel compelled to actually enforce the UN resolution, although that would be a marked departure for the ineffective United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that has done nothing since its inception in 1978 except build itself nice facilities and watch Hizballah fortify the area after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, much as it did with the Palestinian Liberation Organization before that. Worthless is the word that springs to mind. On the other hand, deployment of the Lebanese Army, which is neither willing nor capable of doing much of anything, suits Nasrallah just fine.

In his remarks, Nasrallah chided the government of Fu'ad Sinyurah, claiming it is "unable to protect, rebuild or unify Lebanon." He may be right, and no doubt willing to have Hizballah fill that role.

Nasrallah and Hizballah have done nothing to comply with UNSCR 1701. Israel has complied by lifting the air and sea blockade and plans to have all of its troops out of Lebanon by Yom Kippur (this year it runs from sunset October 1 to nightfall October 2). Given the apparent reluctance of the Olmert government in Tel Aviv to do anything about it, it appears that Hizballah has emerged in a stronger position than it was in prior to the conflict.
Surprisingly, no one seems to care.
* Sayid is an honorific title for male descendants of Muhammad.