Courtesy Reuters

Words Will Never Hurt

By Doug Henry

To the Editor:

Daniel Byman's estimation of Hezbollah's lethality and the "pitfalls of a direct attack" against it ("Should Hezbollah Be Next?" November/December 2003) is quite right. But the solutions he proposes fail to appreciate current trends in the Middle East.

Byman argues that the United States must tighten its grip on Hezbollah by coercing the organization's main supporters, Iran and Syria. He recommends a policy of carrots and sticks that "would lead Syrian President Bashar al-Assad" and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "to crack down on [their] erstwhile proxy."

But Byman underestimates the hurdles that the United States must overcome in persuading Syria to act against Hezbollah, which Damascus has supported ideologically, materially, and logistically for more then two decades. Syria would have to relinquish a proxy that has enabled it to "strike at Israel and other targets without risks of direct confrontation" -- a position envied by almost all Arab states. Syria would also have to face losing its only territorial cushion at a time when Damascus finds itself more isolated than ever (with U.S.-controlled Iraq to the east, Israel and Jordan to the south, and Turkey to the north). The antagonistic inertia emerging between Washington, Damascus, and Tehran, meanwhile, suggests that diplomatic trends are moving in the exact opposite direction to the one Byman envisages.

Regarding sticks, Byman undermines his own argument. He calls for the United States to use an "implicit threat of military action" and "constant diplomatic pressure," yet acknowledges that Washington is "today in a far worse position militarily and diplomatically than it was before the war in Iraq." Tehran and Damascus, in other words, are unlikely to take U.S. posturing seriously.

DOUG HENRY

Center for Strategic and International Studies

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