The Obama administration is heralding a conference later this month in Geneva where representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s regime will ostensibly sit down with the Syrian rebel forces opposing them. The effect will be to prop up Assad. Sen. John McCain, on the other hand, is committed to the Syrian people. We commend him for the courage he showed last week when he became the most senior American official to visit Syria since the shooting started, entering from the Turkish border. Meeting with rebel leaders, McCain could hardly have been surprised to learn that the last thing they want is an intra-Syrian peace process with the ruling clique that slaughtered peaceful demonstrators for a year before the opposition finally picked up arms in its own defense. What the rebels want from the United States, Free Syrian Army general Salim Idriss told McCain, is what they’ve been requesting for a year—weapons and the grounding of Assad’s air force with a no-fly zone. Idriss added one new item to the wish list: Bomb Hezbollah.
This request comes as the Lebanese militia has fully entered the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad—fighting not just to keep its ally in Damascus in power, but also to be of service to the Iranian regime, the patron of both Assad and Hezbollah, and to keep open the conduit that allows Iran to ship armaments through Syria to Hezbollah’s strongholds in Lebanon.
Last week, Hezbollah sent elite forces against Syrian rebel positions, notably in Qusayr, a strategically vital town. Should Assad lose Damascus, he would fall back to the redoubt of his Alawite people, the coastal mountains along the Mediterranean. Holding Qusayr is critical to preserving a land link from that area to Hezbollah-controlled regions of Lebanon. The importance of Qusayr to Assad and Hezbollah can be gauged by the losses the Lebanese fighters incurred there: dozens killed in an ambush during the group’s initial assault, and perhaps 100 dead after a week’s combat. Reports suggest that Hezbollah may be on the verge of retaking the town from the rebels, but it’s come at considerable cost and thanks in no small part to the Syrian regime’s air and artillery support. As it turns out, Hezbollah is not as formidable as advertised.
Nonetheless, in light of Idriss’s plea, it’s worth remembering that Hezbollah’s prestige is built partly on the fact that early in its history it bloodied the United States, killing and kidnapping hundreds of Americans during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. April was the 30th anniversary of Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, where 63 were killed, including 17 Americans. October will mark the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks, in which a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 241 American Marines, soldiers, and sailors. In the aftermath, the Reagan administration withdrew forces from Lebanon and handed Hezbollah a significant victory, one that would not only embolden its patron Iran but also lend credence to Osama bin Laden’s claim that America was a paper tiger in retreat.
Since 1983, Hezbollah has plotted other operations against Americans and waged terror campaigns against our allies in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, especially Israel, whose citizens have been targeted by Hezbollah suicide bombers, kidnappers, snipers, rockets, and missiles. With all the American blood that Hezbollah has on its hands, in addition to the attacks on our allies and interests, the United States has an open account with Hezbollah 30 years past due. Here our interests are aligned perfectly with those of the Syrian rebels.
Nonetheless, American policymakers past and present as well as regional experts are likely to roll their sophisticated eyes at Idriss’s suggestion. And yet it is American Middle East hands who should be embarrassed for not having the good sense to see the issue as plainly as the Syrian rebel commander. For four decades U.S. officials refused to stand up to Hezbollah and chose to look the other way when the terrorist group targeted Americans. Is it any wonder that the murderers of Ambassador Chris Stevens are still at liberty nine months after the Benghazi attack, when the United States failed to take action against the assassins of Navy diver Robert Stethem, whose body was tossed onto the tarmac at the Beirut airport in 1985? American policymakers knew it was Hezbollah, and they knew how to make the party bleed by striking any number of targets in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. And yet they did nothing.
For over a week now, the Syrian town of Qusayr in Homs Province has seen some of the heaviest fighting in the two-year conflict. The struggle for Qusayr, says besieged President Bashar al-Assad, “is the main battle” in all of Syria.
Are we watching Hezbollah closely enough these days? Probably not. Given events in Syria and the Balkans, it appears that we’re in for a whole new set of problems to be presented by Iran’s favorite proxy.
Yesterday the Bulgarian government announced the results of its investigation into the July 18, 2012 bus bombing that killed 5 Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver in the city of Burgas. At least two members of what appears to have been a three-man team belong to Hezbollah. More specifically, explained Bulgaria’s interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, they were part of Hezbollah’s “military wing”—a peculiar turn of phrase that hints at the political implications of the Bulgarian investigation, which may have a major impact on European Union foreign policy as well as Hezbollah’s ability to operate on the continent. And yet the most serious repercussions may be felt inside Lebanon, where Hezbollah is already feeling the pressure.
Informed sources are confirming reports that there was a major explosion at a uranium enrichment plant at an Iranian nuclear facility in Fordow last week. However, the White House believes the reports are not credible and Iran denies that anything is amiss, but a variety of news items coming out of Israel and Iran point to the likelihood that something significant is happening in the region.
In a sharply worded letter to Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be the next secretary of defense, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana takes issue with Hagel's past statement that “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here…. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.” Hagel made that statement in a 2006 interview.
Last week THE WEEKLY STANDARD published my article, “Smugglers Galore: How Iran Arms its Proxies.” It seems that part of it may have found its way onto the reading list of Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah.
NBC’s Middle East correspondent Richard Engel was released yesterday after being held for five days in Syria. When his kidnappers came to a rebel checkpoint, they were engaged in a firefight with a Free Syrian Army unit that allowed Engel and his colleagues to go free. NBC’s statement said he was taken by an “unknown group,” but Engel himself said he has a “very good idea” that the kidnappers are members of the shabbiha.
Twenty-nine years ago yesterday, December 12, 1983, Hezbollah and operatives of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite group Da’wa carried out a series of seven coordinated bombings in Kuwait, killing six people and wounding nearly ninety more. The targets included the American and French embassies, the Kuwait airport, the grounds of the Raytheon Corporation, a Kuwait National Petroleum Company oil rig, and a government-owned power station. An attack outside a post office was thwarted.
Yesterday, the Treasury Department designated Ali Musa Daqduq, “a senior Hizballah commander responsible for numerous attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq, including planning an attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center (JPCC) on January 20, 2007, which resulted in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers.”