Tehran holds the key to a ceasefire

Posted in Iran | 14-Aug-06 | Author: Sami Moubayed| Source: Asia Times

Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks at a military ceremony at the Glilot army base near Tel Aviv, Tuesday Aug. 1, 2006.
DAMASCUS - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke at a military graduation ceremony last week, commenting on Israel's war in Lebanon: "Israel is winning this war and chalking up unprecedented achievements. If the fighting were to end today, we could say certainly that the face of the Middle East has changed as a result of this great Israeli victory."

It's difficult to understand what achievements he is talking about. Olmert promised to crush Hezbollah in a matter of days. After four weeks, that has not been achieved. He promised to disarm Hezbollah by force to implement United Nations Resolution 1559. That also has not been achieved. He promised to gain the release of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on July 12. That, too, is far from being a reality, unless Israel releases Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails.

Certainly, Israel has bombed Lebanon, killing more than 1,000 Lebanese (nearly 700 civilians) and displacing more than a million. Hezbollah, however, is still there - and fighting. Hezbollah says it has only lost 58 fighters in battle; Israel says it has killed 300-400.

The only things this war has "achieved" for Israeli - until now - is a bloody nose, a reputation for brutal reprisal, and shattering of the long-standing myth that Israel is invincible.

The war has already cost Israel an estimated US$1.6 billion. In addition, 120 Israelis have been killed, 82 of them soldiers. At the time of writing, 13 Israeli tanks had been destroyed by Hezbollah.

Unlike Olmert, Hezbollah has fulfilled many of its promises. It promised to "surprise" the enemy, and did so by striking an Israeli warship off the coast of Beirut during the early days of the conflict, and since then it has bombed numerous Israeli cities, including Haifa and "beyond Haifa" in the Israeli heartland.

It has not liberated the Sheba Farms, however, nor has it forced the Israelis to negotiate the release of their two captive soldiers, abducted on July 12, in exchange for Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.

Some say that by surviving the might of the Israeli army for a month, and striking deep in the Israeli heartland, Hezbollah has already scored a victory and emerged in military triumph. Others, however, argue that the devastating results in Lebanon are proof that Lebanon - and Hezbollah - have been defeated.

The first tangible result of the war, which is a setback for Hezbollah, was the Lebanese government's decision to deploy 15,000 of its troops on the border with Israel. This was surprisingly agreed to by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the two Hezbollah members in the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora. Since the liberation of south Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah has rejected deploying the Lebanese army in the south. The announcement came shortly before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced on Thursday that the Christian border village of Marjiyoun was now under Israeli control.

The IDF, which used the village as a command base during its long occupation of Lebanon from 1978 to 2000, will serve as a strong foothold for Israel as it prepares to launch a massive ground invasion into Lebanon.

The move to deploy the Lebanese army is a grand setback for Hezbollah. So is the fall of Marjiyoun. It does not mean, however, that Hezbollah had been defeated. It does mean that Hezbollah has been exhausted. It also means that Hezbollah is under immense pressure, due to all the destruction having befallen Lebanon, and in desperate need for an exit strategy.

It also means that Nasrallah is willing to bargain with regard to previous red lines to attain his long-term objective: keeping Hezbollah armed. When the war started, it was believed that Hezbollah did not want confrontation, but now there is no turning back for Nasrallah.

When it became clear that the IDF would not be able to destroy Hezbollah by air attacks, Israeli leaders began toying with the idea of a ground invasion of south Lebanon. Hezbollah welcomed the idea, because of its superiority in hand-to-hand combat, and has so far performed with flying colors.

But the reality of today is that - whether the Arabs like it or not - Hezbollah has been tired, if not weakened. The acceptance to deployment of troops and the fall of Marjiyoun illustrate this, despite the thundering rhetoric of Nasrallah, who said this week that Lebanon would become a graveyard for the Israelis.

Hezbollah is, after all, a non-state entity with limited manpower and weapons. Political pressure to bring the war to a halt, along with the rising death toll in Lebanon, will eventually be too strong for Hezbollah to ignore. There are limits to what it can do, and there are limits to its supplies of arms and the fighting spirit of the Lebanese people. There are limits to what people can tolerate in exchange for Nasrallah's "surprises" on Israel.

Hezbollah's main weapon is its famed Russian-made Katyusha rocket. Lacking any target precision, the rockets are only effective when they are fired in large numbers at the same time, so that they fall indiscriminately in Israel. But ultimately, these missiles are outdated combat weapons. They were first used 60 years ago by the Russians against the Germans in World War II.

They are no match for the massive and highly precise US-made missiles that are raining on Lebanon. Hezbollah has used other missiles, including the Iranian-made Raad I (believed to be another name for Iran's Shahine 1) along with Fajr 3 (45-kilometer range), and Fajr 5 (75km range). Its most deadly weapon is Zilzal 2, a missile it has not used to date, which supposedly has a range of 200-400km and can hold up to 600 kilograms of explosives.

Diplomatic efforts
Meanwhile, the international community is still talking about a ceasefire. Hezbollah has repeatedly welcomed this, but refuses to announce it before Israel stops its bombing. It has also flatly turned down the French-US ceasefire agreement those to countries want to put before the United Nations. Among other things, it would create a buffer zone in south Lebanon that could only be entered by the Lebanese army and a multinational force.

The proposal also calls for the disarming of Hezbollah, and has been rejected by the Lebanese government because it does not call for the withdrawal of Israel troops from south Lebanon, nor for an immediate ceasefire. The draft places full responsibility for a ceasefire on the shoulders of Hezbollah, and makes Prime Minister Siniora responsible for distancing Hezbollah from the border.

What Israel could not do by force - effectively push Hezbollah away from the border with Israel - it is trying to do through the US-French ceasefire draft. Despite objections, and amendments to the original document, the UN Security Council is expected to issue a resolution on Monday, officially calling on Hezbollah to disarm.

In effect this would be implementing what the Franco-US document says, without consent of the Lebanese government - or even with hidden consent from the Siniora cabinet. After all, the Lebanese government has been trying to disarm Hezbollah through dialogue since the exodus of Syrian troops in April 2005.

Getting an international resolution calling on Hezbollah is one thing, however, and actually disarming the Shi'ite resistance is another. For now, nobody is seriously thinking of how Hezbollah will be disarmed. It certainly cannot be done by the Lebanese army. Nor can it be done by Siniora, or the UN.

It needs to be willingly done through Hezbollah's consent - otherwise it will inflame the bloody battle in Lebanon. Or it has to be done through Iran. Only Iran has the ability to disarm Hezbollah with minimal damage to Lebanon and the entire Middle East. Only Iran can command Hezbollah, and only Iran will Hezbollah obey. Yet Iran will only do so if it is given carrots - big carrots - by the US administration.

Thus, by seeking a UN resolution, the Americans and the French are actually looking in the wrong direction.

Although Hezbollah may be tired and ready to stop fighting, it will not do so unless Israel halts its fire first. And Israel will not do that as long as it is being injected with weapons - and confidence - by the United States to stay fighting.

If indeed Israel and the US want an end to the war, they should look for answers in Tehran, not at the UN.

Failing Iran, a better solution to the entire crisis would be to follow through with the seven-point truce plan made by Siniora on July 27. It calls for the mutual release of Lebanese and Israeli prisoners under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. If this were done, it would be a victory for Nasrallah, because he said the two Israeli soldiers abducted on July 12 would only be released in a prisoner exchange.

The Siniora plan also demands the withdrawal of the IDF from the south, and the return of the displaced to their villages. It also requests a commitment from the Security Council to place the Sheba Farms area and the Kafar Shouba Hills under UN jurisdiction until border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them are fully settled. Also, the IDF must give Lebanon all land-mine maps of south Lebanon, made during the 1978-2000 Israeli occupation of the south. Finally, it says the Lebanese army should take full control of south Lebanon. This would be complemented by a strong multinational force under UN auspices.
The difference between the Siniora plan and the Franco-US plan is that Paris and Washington insist on Israel's withdrawal only after an international force is deployed in south Lebanon. Their proposal also permits Israel to launch defensive attacks against Hezbollah, if the latter provokes it or if Hezbollah does not cease its attacks on northern Israel. It also calls on Hezbollah to hand over Israeli soldiers, but makes no mention of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.

Supporting the Siniora plan are the European Union, the Syrians, the Arab League and Hezbollah.

Much diplomatic activity is expected over the weekend, although it is highly unlikely that the war will come to an end soon. Any UN resolution that can't find a satisfactory way to disarm Hezbollah is worthless: the answers lie in Tehran.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.