Hitting the Butcher of Damascus Where it Hurts

So where can you hit the butcher of Damascus where it hurts? Does he have a soft spot?

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By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on June 22, 2012.)

How do you stop the carnage that has plagued Syria for so many months? No one – not NATO, the United States, Turkey or all of them in concert – want to tangle with the Syrian army, which is still a powerful force by any standard. Israeli intervention would most likely be counterproductive. And besides, who would take over in Syria if Assad’s army were defeated? Faced with these uncertainties, the world stands by as hundreds are being slaughtered every week. Is there really nothing that can be done but complain and condemn?

Assad is not alone. He has a few powerful friends. First, there are the Iranians, who see him as an ally and a first line of defense; they are actively supporting him in every way possible. And the Iranians, busy developing their nuclear weapons program, are keeping the West busy as well in endless negotiations. The economic sanctions against them do not in any way interfere with the assistance they are providing to Assad.

The Chinese and the Russians, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, are also blocking moves to challenge Assad, and they refuse to be convinced otherwise. They have more important interests at stake.

So where can you hit the butcher of Damascus where it hurts? Does he have a soft spot?

Yes, he does. But it is not Syria, nor is it Lebanon, Syria’s next-door neighbor. It is Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has a very sizable military organization – an army, in fact. An army that is far stronger than that of Lebanon, on whose territory it operates. It has an armory of weapons that would shame many legitimate armies in the world today; among its weapons are tens of thousands of ballistic rockets and missiles.

This army, both armed and trained by the Iranians, is a close ally of the Syrian dictator. Its fighters participate in the slaughter that has taken place in Syria these past few months and oppose those in Lebanon who demonstrate against what is happening in Syria.

Hezbollah’s army is an illegitimate one, formed contrary to international law, violating on a daily basis the sovereignty of Lebanon, refusing to submit to the authority of the Lebanese army. And its plans for attacking Israel with rockets could turn the Middle East into a powder keg.

Hezbollah is a legitimate target for those seeking to return some degree of normalcy to the Middle East. It is Assad’s weak spot. If Hezbollah’s army were to be disarmed, it would weaken Syria significantly.

It is hard to believe that this terrorist organization, allied with Iran and Syria, threatening Israel, endangering Lebanon, has been essentially ignored by the international community in recent years. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed unanimously in August 2006, called for the disarming of armed groups in Lebanon. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on his recent visit to Beirut, said in reference to Hezbollah that “all these arms outside of the state authority [are] not acceptable.” Hezbollah has with impunity disregarded these calls. In fact, aided by Iran and Syria, it has greatly increased its armory of weapons in the intervening years. Now it is assisting Assad in the mass killings in Syria.

It is high time to initiate diplomatic moves aimed at disarming Hezbollah. Such moves would be fully justified by international law. The UN Security Council should put Hezbollah’s violations of Resolution 1701 on its agenda. Russia and China, so concerned about the inviolability of sovereign states, regardless of their character or actions, might be prepared to support such a move in support of the sovereignty of Lebanon. Complaints should be lodged with the Lebanese government. Like the strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program, here too it should be made clear that, should diplomacy fail, other options are “on the table.” Such a move may finally get things moving in Syria and put an end to the bloodletting. It will most certainly get Assad’s attention.

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