Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hezbollah is not the IRA

Tony Badran, February 2, 2010
Hezbollah soldiers salute during a parade on Martyrs' Day in Dahieh. (AFP photo/Ramzi Haidar)

Islamist groups have invited a whole set of analogies purportedly aimed at better explaining them and how best to deal with them. One such analogy that has gained currency in recent years is the oft-encountered comparison between Islamist groups and the Irish Republican Army.

The point of the comparison is to show that as the IRA was purportedly co-opted through dialogue, the same method can be applied to other armed organizations as well. Hence, the argument runs, only such a peaceful process, and not military coercion, will lead to any given group's decision to abandon violence, and ultimately to disarm and integrate into democratic politics. Of course, forsaking violence is not a prerequisite for dialogue, and engagement is further facilitated by a nifty conceit distinguishing a group's "military wing" from its ostensibly more moderate or pragmatic "political wing." Indeed, the British are currently pursuing this policy with Hezbollah – and going nowhere.

The argument has just been trotted out again in a rather fantastical and factually handicapped piece  by Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson on the Foreign Affairs website.

The two authors get off to a sound start, noting a major difference between the IRA and Hezbollah, namely the organic ties between the Party of God and Iran, which have no parallel in the IRA. However, when they elide that inconvenient fact and nonetheless claim that "the similarities between the two cases are no less striking than the differences," their argument goes off the tracks.

One "similarity," they contend, is that both Hezbollah and the IRA have "political wings." But this is misleading, not least of all because Hezbollah rejects and ridicules the proposition that it has a "political wing" separate from a "military" one.

Even if everyone knew that the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, were separate only in name, Sinn Fein's leaders still tried to deny any organizational links or knowledge of IRA operations. But that's not how Hezbollah works. For instance, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last spring, Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, dismissed the supposed dichotomy outright. "All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership," he said. "The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions."

In other words, far from being ready to "shift more decisively to the political realm," as Simon and Stevenson contend, Hezbollah sees involvement in politics as serving its broader, regional, agenda: "resistance."

It's bad enough to misunderstand Hezbollah, but to make the case that engagement in peaceful dialogue is what leads to moderation and disarmament is to distort the historical record regarding the IRA as well. The British did not bring the IRA "in from the cold" through peaceful talks with its "political wing." Rather they forced them to the table after infiltrating their ranks and cultivating informers even in the top echelons of the movement. Information from these informers was secretly passed to Loyalist paramilitary forces who used it to target IRA members extra-judicially.

In the end, the IRA was cornered, unable to force a British withdrawal, and, worse, unable to even protect its community from Loyalist gangs. It was not the Brits but the IRA that initiated talks when its armed struggle had reached a stalemate.

This is hardly where Hezbollah sees itself today, neither ideologically nor operationally. Instead of finding itself cornered by its local rivals, Hezbollah has used its weapons to extract powerful political concessions, neutralize the unfavorable result of democratic elections, and impose its priorities on its adversaries and the Lebanese government.

Why is Simon and Stevenson's article riddled with so many errors and misconceptions? Because they assume an affirmative response to a key question that they never bother tackling: Does Hezbollah want to disarm? Without addressing this question convincingly, further misconceptions are inevitable, like the authors' proposition, unsupported by any evidence, that Hezbollah is trying to distance itself from Iran, whose Ruling Jurist (Wali al-Faqih), as Hezbollah itself declares, has final say over all important decisions. The proper answer of course is that Hezbollah does not want to disarm since it makes no sense for it to do so, neither from a pragmatic perspective nor an ideological one.
The issue here is not sloppiness, but a chronic ailment afflicting Western writing on the Middle East, as what appears to be analysis is often something else entirely. Simon (who was recently in Lebanon at the invitation of the New Opinion Group) and Stevenson are not writing about Hezbollah or Lebanon, but Washington.

In 2003 the two co-wrote an essay arguing that the example of Northern Ireland was "a strong argument" against adopting a "lenient" policy with Hamas, so why do they now argue that such treatment will work with Hezbollah? Perhaps it is because there are figures in the Obama administration who are sympathetic to a policy of engagement with Hezbollah, like the NSC staff's counterterrorism czar, John Brennan, who has publically implied an acceptance of the "political vs. military wing" dichotomy in Hezbollah, claiming that the "political wing" allegedly denounces the violence of the "military."
Thankfully, when it comes to Hezbollah, as evident from the State Department's quick rejection of Brennan's views, there is more sobriety in Washington than in the poor Foreign Affairs article, or in the British Foreign Office for that matter.

Tony Badran is a research fellow with the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Monday, February 15, 2010

What is a Miss?

by Paula R. Stern
Shevat 22, 5770, 2/6/2010

Palestinians shot a rocket at Israel yesterday. For all intents and purposes, they again missed their target...whatever that might have been this time. Palestinians also launched explosive barrels against Israel's shore lines. For all intents and purposes, they again missed their target...whatever that might have been. The devices - three so far and counting, were all found and neutralized. A miss. Again.

Because this new water warfare is a bit unique, it garners a bit of international attention but for all intents and purposes, the explosives were oh-so-boringly disarmed. No spectacular explosions; no blood; no deaths and so, sadly, no real news as far as much of the world is concerned.

The world is blasé about the rockets that keep raining down on us. Yesterday, another rocket - the 20th rocket in a period of 34 days. The rocket crashed down near a city of 25,000 people. Certainly, Hamas cannot control the rockets - proof in the fact that they keep missing. But...because they cannot be controlled, because they are launched indiscriminately, they bring with them terror.

There is no miss when it comes to terror - and that is the point that must be made.

A miss doesn't make the news but that doesn't mean anything on the scale of what is really important. Twenty times in the last month, close to one million people have been terrorized by rockets.

In the last few days, all of Israel has been warned - avoid the seashore and if you go, beware. If you see a suspicious could be a bomb. Can you relate this idiocy to your life - you who live far from such a concept?

When I was young and wanted a day of freedom, it was to the beach I went. I have always felt so close to the water, so touched by the majesty and power of that place where water meets land. Two years ago, I asked my youngest daughter what she wanted to do on her last day of vacation. Elie was in the army, her older sister in her first year of marriage. My youngest child picked the sea and so we went (A Candle and a Wave). I watched her dance among the waves, enthralled as I have always been. Today, in fear, there are many who are not going to the beaches; the army has told us to stay away while they comb the waters of our shoreline. Boats have been warned as well. This too they would take from us, if we let them.

What amazes me is how the shades of terrorism never seem to include terror. Attacks are measured only in bodies and blood - but what of the terror itself? What of the family who avoids the beach, the mall, the buses today because they are afraid? What of the child who walks and is afraid on his way to school because he knows that a Color Red might sound and he has to run and hide and only has 15 seconds?

What of the mother who plays in the park with two of her children and wonders if she can, within 15 seconds, get to both and safety as well? All these are facets of terrorism too easily ignored.

That the Palestinians missed murdering innocents in Sderot yesterday and the day before and eighteen other times this past month, is a blessing, a miracle, a gift. The fact that alert Israelis are finding these water bombs before innocents find them is a blessing, a miracle, a gift. It is wrong to ignore the horror, the terror, the indignity, the murderous intent...simply because, by the grace of God and our security forces, the Palestinians have, once again, missed their targets.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

AFRIN, Syrian Kurdistan,— According to Syrian Committee for Human Rights – MAD, Mohammed Musto Rashid from Mabatli, Afrin, died as a result of torture in Aleppo Central prison. He had been in detention for nearly four months, and had been subjected to severe torture, and was taken to hospital in Allepo where he stayed for four days. He was then sent back to prison and his death was announced on 19 January 2010. The reason for his arrest and detention is not known, nor if this was in connection with any political activity.
Zahr al-Din Khorshid Ibish and his brother Rashid, from the town of Afrin, were arrested on 1 January 2010 after a raid on their house by security forces.                
Mohammed Musto Rashid, a Syrian Kurd, died under torture in Syria
Zahr al-Din Khorshid Ibish had been detained in Turkey for eight years for allegedly belonging to the PKK. He was handed to the Syrian authorities in 2004,www.ekurd.netand was then imprisoned for three months. He then moved to live in Lebanon with his brother, where he worked for three years. On return to Syria they were arrested again, but the reasons for the arrest are unknown.
Syrian Committee for Human Rights – MAD is calling for the responsible authorities to investigate the death of Mohammed Musto Rashid, and bring the perpetrators to justice.