February 19, 2009

Kerry wants Syria to help disarm Hizballah?

Senator John Kerry Senator John Kerry, on a visit this week to the Middle East, made some interesting statements while in Beirut. These two passages stand out.

"We want Syria to respect the political independence of Lebanon, we want Syria to help in the process of resolving issues with Hizballah and with the Palestinians. We want Syria to help...with the disarmament of Hizballah."

"Unlike the Bush administration that believed you could simply tell people what to do and walk away and wait for them to do it, we believe you have to engage in a discussion. So we are going to renew diplomacy, but without any illusion, without any naivete, without any misplaced belief that, just by talking, things will automatically happen."

There is a lot of "we" in those statements. One could ask in what capacity Kerry was speaking. The statement that "we are going to renew diplomacy..." is especially confusing. The last I heard, he is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - that's the legislative branch that makes laws and oversees the executive branch. He is not the Secretary of State, head of the executive branch department charged with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

That begs the question: Where is the Secretary of State? One would assume she would be engaged in the Middle East. The latest threat assessment
issued by the Director of National Intelligence contained 45 pages of text - 19 were devoted to the Middle East.

Senator Kerry's office did state that the trip to the region had been coordinated with the White House. I hope that the talking points in the above passages were not provided by the White House. If so, I worry about the new administration's foreign policy process.

Hizballah has refused to disarm, although it has committed to do just that numerous times. For a brief discussion of Hizballah's abysmal history on living up to international agreements, including United Nations Security Council resolutions, see my recent article, Hizballah has the "right" to air defense weapons?

I am puzzled by Senator Kerry's proposal that Syria help with the disarming of Hizballah. No one would be happier than me if my former antagonists at Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) and Syrian Air Force Intelligence (SAFI) were to take on disarming Hizballah. I spent a significant part of my career working against Hizballah, not to mention SMI and SAFI. SAFI agent Nizar Hindawi's attempts to smuggle a bomb onto an Israeli airliner in 1986 caused me no end of grief - that is another story.

Hizballah, literally "the Party of God," was created by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with Syrian Military Intelligence assistance in Lebanon's Biqa' Valley in 1982 as a reaction to Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the "Peace for Galilee" campaign. Hizballah has grown into the most effective irregular military force in the world. Syria, as well as Iran, uses the group as a proxy military force in Lebanon.

In the aftermath of the 2006 war between Hizballah and Israel, Iran - via Syria - resupplied Hizballah. Hizballah is now a - if not "the" - major power broker in Lebanese politics. Hizballah provides a unique capability for either Iran or Syria to exert political pressure on Israel with plausible deniability. What a great capability for the Syrians - to be able to manipulate events in Lebanon without a military presence.

The thought that Syria would help to disarm Hizballah, to dismantle Damascus's proxy capability, without significant concessions is hard to believe. What is Senator Kerry proposing we give the Syrians as an incentive, and why is he and not the Secretary of State making the case?