The Hard Part Of A
Lebanon Ceasefire
By Terrell E. Arnold

Yesterday afternoon the foreign ministers and other ranking officials of the United States, the European community, the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Kofi Annan of the United Nations, agreed to disagree on how to shut down the war in Lebanon. All present, except the United States, wanted an immediate ceasefire. The United States refused. In the normal course of such endeavors, representatives of all the belligerents would somehow have been present, or represented by designated envoys. In this meeting, however, only the United States, as real time supplier of weapons and equipment to the Israelis, qualified as a belligerent. And the US argument in the meeting was basically we have not pounded the enemy, Hezbollah, into the dirt, and until we do there can be no end to the shooting.
That put the United States in the anomalous positions of acting as a party directly interested in assuring a specific result of the fracas, while using its powerful, nominal third party position, to prevent any action to terminate the fracas before the desired results were achieved. On that basis, the Rome meeting simply had to be a failure for the United States to achieve its objective.
This outcome reflects, one would hope, the nadir of a diplomatic approach that the United States has now driven completely into the ground: Shame, accuse, castigate, and maneuver by every possible means around the country you have a problem with, but never, repeat never, talk to them. There are now three countries in this "nonentity" category--Syria, Iran, and North Korea--and two groups--Hezbollah and Hamas--with whom the United States chooses to have little or nothing to do.
But those "nonentities" are at the heart of America's three most distracting international relations issues: Preventing nuclear proliferation, eliminating terrorism, and ending the Israeli/Palestinian standoff. Therefore, positioning those "entities" behind, as it were, an invisible barrier that prevents any sort of discourse seems a genuinely perverse order of self-abnegation.
How did our country get into this astounding diplomatic quandary after more than two centuries of more or less successful diplomatic discourse with both friends and enemies? In the worst moments of the Cold War, we were sometimes truculent, but never tongue-tied. We may from time to time have succumbed to using the media to deliver a message, but we did get ourselves understood. Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" epithet comes to mind, but even then we had an embassy that was in constant operational touch with our main adversary, and thus we combined variously open and indirect moves with direct and more or less constant diplomatic contact.
Around the current identified set of "nonentities" however, we are attempting only media words and third party maneuver. We have an embassy in Damascus, Syria, but remarks of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her present Middle East journey suggest that we are not using it to talk to Syrian leadership about a set of issues in Lebanon that are obviously important to Syria. Moreover, it is obvious to all that Syria has an interest and could play potentially a decisive role in dealing with the Israeli/Hezbollah confrontation.
Why not be completely open and forthright with all these parties? It is obvious from the outset that the normally devious approaches of the present administration are not going to work. It is equally obvious that an approach to the non-state actors involved, Hezbollah and Hamas, that says you are terrorists and we will not talk to you has not and is not going anywhere.
With Hamas, for starters, why not indicate to the leadership that we recognize that the effort to turn an insurgent group into a successful political party is not easy, but it is appreciated. Then go on to suggest that if Hamas and its supporters actually set out to execute the formula that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have proposed for the future of Palestine--basically the Arab League formula for a two state solution, the United States will do its best to get that concept accepted and acted upon by the Israelis? How about saying to Hamas, Fatah and the splinter groups of Palestine that the United States actually supports the idea of an independent and fully self-governing Palestinian state and will act as an honest broker to get it established? In such circumstances, there seems little doubt that the Palestinian people would work on this until it either succeeded or turned into something else, but the insurgency would stop.
With Hezbollah, why not start by assuring Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah that the desire of the Shi'a of south Lebanon to have secure and unmolested living space is well understood and that the United States will do whatever possible to assure their safety and prosperity? Then somehow assure him that the United States is working diligently to terminate Israeli incursions into south Lebanon as well as the Israeli occupation of Palestine, thus reaching an agreement with Hezbollah to stand down while the international community actually works at solving the Palestine problems, inducing Israel to stay within its borders and leave the neighbors alone. With security and assurances that the Palestinian people will not continue to be repressed, harassed, imprisoned and killed, Hezbollah would surely be inclined to cooperate, and as its name--Party of God--implies, to become fully engaged in the political processes of running the Lebanese democracy.
Grant Syria the courtesy of recognizing the complex demands of its surroundings. To its north and east, is the devastating situation of Iraq at war, with itself and with an invading coalition. To the south it has a warlike and land-hungry neighbor that already holds a recognized piece of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights. To its west is Lebanon, a small politically confused country that has spent most of the past two decades in civil war. And in southern Lebanon it has an ally in Hezbollah that is both a political and religious factor of some importance to Syria's Shi'a Alawite leadership. In the very air it faces a constant hostile and accusative US and Israeli posture. Show them that a serious effort is finally being made to resolve the Palestine problem and assure them that their nuclear-armed neighbor, Israel has stopped threatening them with political or actual extinction. Those steps should be a sufficient basis for damping down, if not eliminating, Syrian support for the Palestinian insurgency and for Hezbollah.
How about shedding the ideological baggage that keeps the United States from dealing squarely with Iran? Is it actually sane to argue that Iran is a threat to the United States? Iran is a terrorism problem mainly because of support for the Palestinian insurgency. If that problem is solved, Iranian support for terrorism will diminish and virtually disappear, that is, if at the same time the United States stops threatening the country with invasion or annihilation. Is it really America's business that the Iranian government is strongly influenced by Islamic clergy? Should Iran and other countries thereby be concerned about the extent to which current US leadership is influenced by hard right Christianity and significantly dominated by Zionist supporters of Israel? Can we honestly look the Iranians in the eye on nuclear policies and say they have no right to process fuel as provided in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, while we tolerate and even facilitate Israel's growing stockpile of nuclear weapons? Can we categorically say that the Iranians should get over the fact that we overthrew their duly elected government half a century ago, especially when we daily threaten them with invasion, subversion and political interference?
Putting the situation of North Korea aside for another time, all of the above problems converge on the terrain of south Lebanon and the problem of what to do about Israel's effort to decimate Hezbollah. In the asserted logic of the United States, Hezbollah is tied in linear fashion to Syria and to Iran. Like several other current Bush administration and neo-con judgments about the Middle East, the idea of linear linkage of Hezbollah to Syria and Iran is simply mistaken. Hezbollah, first and foremost, is a Lebanese Shi'a political movement that grew out of the threat posed by Israel's last invasion of Lebanon. The first aim of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is to assure the security and safety of his people and to give them spiritual leadership. He has been better at fulfilling those tasks than the Lebanese government. Nasrallah needs outside help to do those things, and he is religiously bound to a connection to Iran, but Hezbollah is very much its own organization on the ground. Which is better: (a) force into further terrorism, or (b) nudge it further into responsible political participation in Lebanon's democracy?
Assured of its own safety and reasonable progress on solving the problems in Palestine, Hezbollah can be neutralized as an insurgent group. The Israeli solution, to decimate Hezbollah, would involve death and destruction to at least a quarter of the Lebanese population and the creation of mortal enemies of at least half that population, the Lebanese Muslims.
The bottom line is that the US refusal to support a ceasefire in Rome yesterday was a tragic mistake. It was based on an assumption that Hezbollah can be eliminated, when practically speaking that is an impossibility, while, if undertaken, morally it would be the most horrendous war crime of the century. The US action was also based on an assumption that Israel's security problem would be solved by eliminating Hezbollah. That simply will not happen. The same constraints apply to Hamas and to the other insurgent groups in Palestine. Israel simply must not have it that the rest of the world will go along with Israeli efforts to solve its insurgency problems by eliminating the people it is systematically persecuting. The only real solution is to recognize the rights of those people and begin to behave as if they matter.
The solution at this point is to recognize that a ceasefire in Lebanon and in Gaza is vital for humanitarian and regional stability reasons. Waiting while Israel tries to finesse its security problems by increasingly repressive moves against the people of south Lebanon and Palestine is not going to solve anything; it will result in far more deaths and destruction to the tiny state of Lebanon and yet further torture of the people of Palestine. The core problem, as it has been for decades, is still Israeli repression of the Palestinian people.
The hard part of arriving at a ceasefire in south Lebanon is that the United States must connect the dots. Iran and Syria are not the problem. The connections among Iran and Syria and Hezbollah are not the problem. Any stand down of the Palestinian insurgents and Hezbollah will yield only a momentary quiet, unless the real effort is to stop the repression of the Palestinian people. The ceasefire in Lebanon is vital on humanitarian merit and it should be initiated immediately. It is no time to pretend the War on Terrorism can be won in Lebanon while the generators of regional terrorism are constantly refurbished by Israel in Palestine.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, _A World Less Safe_, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College. He will welcome comment at



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