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Lebanon's Scud Row
MARA E. KARLIN is an instructor and a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She was Levant Director at the Pentagon from 2006-7 and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2007-9.See more by this author
Last month, press reports and Israeli government statements announced that Syria may have transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah. The revelation was a reminder that the Lebanon-based terrorist group serves multiple constituencies -- not just in Lebanon but in Iran and Syria as well. These constituencies -- which range from Iran's supreme leader to Hezbollah's Lebanese Christian political allies -- sometimes have competing interests, but they amount to one certainty: Hezbollah will not peacefully disarm soon, and to assert that it may betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Hezbollah's nature, Lebanese politics, and regional dynamics.
Because Hezbollah plays a destabilizing role in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East, the prospect of its disarmament is alluring. Therefore, when the group participates in Lebanese politics, updates its platform, or holds discussions with various other parties, some analysts are quick to interpret such behavior as evidence that Hezbollah is becoming a nonviolent political actor. To consider that possibility, one must examine both the internal and external influences on Hezbollah's actions. Internally, the group and its patrons could choose to disarm voluntarily. Externally, a strengthened Lebanese state could minimize Hezbollah's operating space and thereby displace Hezbollah's arms and public support. Unfortunately, neither scenario is likely.
Lebanon's political leaders are now formally debating the country's national defense strategy. Although such a dialogue requires acknowledging that the Lebanese state does not hold a monopoly on violence -- indeed, if Hezbollah were a national military, it would be among the most capable in the entire region -- Lebanon's elites typically avoid the issue of Hezbollah's arms. This is unfortunate, since Lebanon's biggest hurdle in designing a national defense strategy is determining Hezbollah's appropriate role in the state.