It is no secret that Iran and Syria use Hezbollah and Hamas as proxies. The kidnapping operations in Israel would not have transpired without a green light from Tehran and Damascus. Further, the rise of Hezbollah and Hamas reflects a growing alliance between autocrats and theocrats. The autocrats want to rule, and the theocrats employ religious means to impose their authority. Both are unified in their opposition to Israel.
Refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist is the root of conflict in the Middle East. Arab governments view Israel as a threat, because it is a democratic and modern state. Under genuine peace, secular authocratic regimes like that of Syria will not survive, because citizens will shift their attention inward and demand viable services like education, healthcare, and a social safety net. Such governments, whose budgets are allocated for security and the foreign bank accounts of the elite, cannot perform these basic functions.
The theocrats oppose the existence of Israel because they fear that the spread of secular rule would end their control. In a televised address on July 16, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah said, “A Hamas and Hezbollah defeat means greater influence for the Zionists and their American masters, the theft of our resources and defacement of our culture and civilization.”
As the United States watches the alliance grow–Iran and Syria formally announced their strategic ties in February 2005–it has failed to nurture a democratic counterweight in the Arab street. U.S. support for Arab democrats has been wishy-washy. Diplomacy has failed.
Today, the Assad regime in Syria offers itself as a mediator for a ceasefire. The Syrians feel emboldened because Washington lacks resolve. While a U.N. investigation has implicated Syrian leadership in last year’s assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Assad’s meddling in Lebanon and crackdown on liberal dissent continues unabated. Syria understands that paying lip service to Washington’s war on terror means its sins at home and abroad will be excused.
In the past, U.S. shuttle diplomacy lent greater focus to appeasing dictators and treating symptoms rather than solving problems. But where the State department once was eager to restrain Israel and find quick fixes, it now claims to seek “sustainable solutions.” That State has repeatedly rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire appears to underscore this.
Washington realizes that a quick resolution to the current conflict will only produce cosmetic change. An immediate and unconditional ceasefire–one which fails to disarm Hezbollah–would not solve the crisis, but prolong it. Such a ceasefire would further bolster the Shiite militia’s prestige in the Arab street and allow them to regroup. Security for Israel and Lebanon will only be achieved if the Lebanese government exerts full control over Lebanon’s territory. A just and lasting peace should not permit perpetrators of violence to save face and live to fight another day.
A permanent solution can be either political or military. A political solution requires a genuine desire to solve problems between the two sides. On the Arab side there are no legitimate and visionary leaders who are willing to take the risk. The Israelis, conversely, have the legitimate leaders — because they were elected by the people and are now expected to serve their people.
The military solution is costly, but it may create the foundation for an eventual political solution. Massive military defeats for militant organizations like Hezbollah would remove significant tools from the hands of Arab rulers. Combine the military solution with genuine pressure on Arab governments to reform, and we can begin to build the basis for peaceful societies. The Arab street will then look inward rather than outward. And local political issues will trump regional ones.
At the moment, Arab rulers are at a crossroad. They can move beyond past failures by choosing a peaceful and realistic political solution. This would require genuine reform at home. The international community and Israel are prepared to extend a sincere hand toward reconciliation, just as soon as there is a real chance for permanent peace. Prosperity would be the result. But so long as terrorist groups and their sponsors continue to thwart the peace process, stability and democracy in the Middle East will remain a distant hope.
— Mohamed Eljahmi is a Boston-based Libyan American activist whose brother, Fathi Eljahmi, is imprisoned in Libya for speaking out for political reform.