Hizbullah's Latest Setback

[Slate] Michael Young - The death of senior Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus was only the latest setback for the Shiite party. Hizbullah blames Israel for the bombing, but it is also peddling a more complex plotline that includes Arab involvement. A source close to Hizbullah told a Kuwaiti daily that the assassination was "Palestinian-Israeli," used American technology, and was financed by an unidentified Gulf Arab official. At Mughniyeh's funeral, Hassan Nasrallah threatened to engage in open war against Israel, indicating that Hizbullah would respond against Israeli targets or Jewish centers worldwide. But things are not that simple. Hizbullah has spent years successfully burnishing its international image - one reason it remains off the EU list of terrorist groups. Giving that up just to avenge Mughniyeh would be costly. Besides, every intelligence agency in the world now expects Hizbullah to retaliate. Add to that Hizbullah's ruinous behavior inside Lebanon since the end of the summer 2006 war against Israel. Many Lebanese blamed Hizbullah for provoking that destructive conflict. Since the end of the war, Hizbullah has collaborated with Syria's efforts to reimpose its hegemony over Lebanon after its army's withdrawal three years ago. Hizbullah has blocked the election of a Lebanese president, part of a Syrian strategy to impose its conditions on any new officeholder. The ensuing stalemate has greatly discredited Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Arab world. Hizbullah has faced a larger dilemma since 2000, when Israel withdrew its army from Lebanon: Without open-ended conflict, the party cannot justify retaining its weapons; but without weapons, Hizbullah cannot exist. Its leadership knows that political normalization in a Lebanon free of Syrian interference would lead to the party's disarmament, since most Lebanese want their government to have a monopoly over the use of violence. To ward off this eventuality, Hizbullah favors a decisive return of Syrian domination over Lebanon, knowing that Assad will necessarily have to rely on Hizbullah's weapons as leverage before he can consider resuming negotiations with Israel. The writer is opinion editor at the Daily Star in Beirut.

2008-02-20 01:00:00

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