February 18, 2009

Hizballah has the "right" to air defense weapons?

Shaykh Hasan NasrallahAccording to Shaykh Hasan Nasrallah, leader of Hizballah, his group has the "right" to possess and use air defense weapons. Nasrallah made this pronouncement at a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the assassination of infamous Hizballah operations chief 'Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah was killed in the upscale Kafr Susah section of Damascus - virtually everyone believes the Israelis were responsible.

Why Nasrallah believes Hizballah has the right to possess air defense weapons is puzzling. According to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and other agreements Hizballah has signed, Hizballah should not even have an armed militia. There is a litany of broken accords, including the Ta'if Accords of 1989 and UNSCR 1559 of 2004. Both call for all militias in Lebanon to be disarmed. All militias except Hizballah adhered to the agreements and disbanded.

Hizballah has refused to disband its militia, claiming that Israel was not in compliance with previous UN resolutions (UNSCR 425 and 426) calling for Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory. Israel claims that it has complied with UNSCR 1549 when it left Lebanon in 2000. The United Nations has certified Israel to be in compliance.

Hizballah claims Israel still occupies some Lebanese land - the Shaba' Farms. It's a myth, but no one is willing to call Hizballah on it (see my earlier post, The Shaba' Farms - Hizballah's Fig Leaf.) This myth is Hizballah's justification to maintain what it calls "The Islamic Resistance."

The latest agreement to be ignored by Hizballah is UNSCR 1701. It is also ignored by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which is tasked with its enforcement. This resolution ended the fighting between Hizballah and Israeli forces in the summer of 2006 and calls for Hizballah to remove its fighters from south of the Litani River and turn in its heavy weapons. UNIFIL was expanded and given the specific mandate to prevent the rearming of the militia. None of this has happened.

In fact, after the fighting in 2006, Hizballah has emerged as the key power broker in Lebanon. It has de facto veto power in the Lebanese Parliament and openly brandishes its heavy weapons - Syria and Iran have completely replenished Hizballah's stocks to greater than pre-conflict levels with absolutely no interference from UNIFIL.

In his statement, Nasrallah also added that Hizballah would fire on Israeli aircraft that routinely violate Lebanese airspace. Hizballah is generally believed to possess ZU-23 antiaircraft artillery guns and shoulder-fired SA-7 and SA-18 surface-to-air missile systems. None are capable of reaching the daily Israeli medium or high altitude reconnaissance flights.

If Hizballah plans to acquire more-capable missile systems - there are rumors that they want the SA-8 GECKO - they should reflect on the history of air defense weapons in Lebanon. In 1982, Syrian forces moved SA-6 missile systems into Lebanon. They were struck almost immediately by Israeli aircraft.

Introduction of these types of air defense missile systems is an Israeli red line. It's pretty simple: if Hizballah brings them into Lebanon, Israel will destroy them.