Next Stop in War on Terror: Lebanon

The battle in Afghanistan is over and everyone is looking for new targets for our war on terrorism. The two most often mentioned are Somalia and Iraq, which both deserve our attention, but they should not be first on the list. If I was running the war, my crosshairs would be trained on Lebanon.

Somalia may be the next target because it’s relatively easy. It is another small Third World country that has no international support and clearly has been a hotbed of terror. It also offers a chance for payback for the fiasco during the Clinton years when we tried to perform a humanitarian mission and were driven out of the country by warlords (read the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden) who murdered our elite soldiers and kidnaped a helicopter pilot. In terms of the broader war on terror, however, Somalia is a small fish in a relatively unimportant part of the world.

The big enchilada is Iraq and lots of people at the Pentagon are itching to go after Saddam Hussein to finish the job President Bush I (and Colin Powell) wouldn’t allow them to do. Saddam has a history of sponsoring terror and, through his acquisition of nonconventional weapons, poses a serious threat to our security. The time to take him out is near, but eliminating Saddam is likely to require a major operation — nothing on the scale of the Gulf War — but still it will take planning and resources that should be put together now for the future campaign.

The best choice for winning the second campaign of the war on terror would be Lebanon. This country was once the Paris of the Middle East and was turned into a hell-hole by the internal rivalries of Christians and Muslims, Palestinian terrorists and Syrian occupiers. It could be a paradise again.

First, the U.S. has to use all its diplomatic and economic leverage to pressure Syria to withdraw the 30,000 troops it has occupying the country. The U.S. should also warn Syria that when we send our troops in, if that is required, we will not hesitate to engage and destroy Syrian forces. That should get their attention.

Next, the Bush Administration should give the Lebanese government an ultimatum: disarm Hizballah or the U.S. will do it for them. Hizballah is a terrorist organization and, unlike many others on the terrorist list, has carried out a number of attacks on Americans. Here’s a partial list:

1982-1988 — Hizballah held David Dodge, acting president of the American University in Beirut, captive for a year; kidnaped and murdered Malcolm Kerr, a Lebanese-born American who was president of the American University of Beirut; abducted Jeremy Levin, Beirut bureau chief of CNN, who later escaped; held Reverend Benjamin T. Weir for 16 months; seized diplomat William Buckley and he was never heard from again; kidnaped Frank Reed, director of the American University in Beirut, and held him 44 months; held Joseph Cicippio, the acting comptroller at the American University in Beirut for five years; and abducted and murdered Col. William Higgins, the American chief of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization.

April 18, 1983 — A truck-bomb exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 employees, including the CIA's Middle East director, and wounding 120.

Oct. 23, 1983 — A truck loaded with a bomb crashed into the lobby of the U.S. Marines headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 soldiers and wounding 81.

April 12, 1984 — Hizballah bombed a restaurant near a U.S. Air Force base in Torrejon, Spain, killing 18 servicemen and wounding 83 people.

September 20, 1984 — A suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in East Beirut killed 23 people and injured 21.

December 4, 1984 — Hizballah terrorists hijacked a Kuwait Airlines plane and murdered American passengers Charles Hegna and William Stanford.

June 14, 1985 — Hizballah members hijacked a TWA flight and murdered Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver.

Most of these attacks were some time ago, so the U.S. is long overdue in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Destroying Hizballah is also important to our regional security interests. The organization is now the principal cause of instability along Israel’s northern border. Although Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon, fulfilling the UN resolutions calling for it to do so, Hizballah has continued to launch attacks against Israelis. If the group is eliminated, the prospects for peace between Israel and Lebanon will increase.

It may be necessary to mount an Afghan-type operation to root out Hizballah, but the group could also be crippled if a) the Lebanese government disarms the group and deploys its army along the southern border as Israel and most of the international community has requested; b) Syria is compelled to stop using Hizballah as a proxy to pressure Israel over the Golan Heights and cease providing financial aid and serving as the transit station for weapons bound for Hizballah; and c) making it clear to Iran that an improvement in relations with the U.S. will be conditioned on the termination of all support for Hizballah.

The toughest thing about taking on Hizballah is that it will require the Administration to confront Arab regimes, including “allies” like Saudi Arabia, which don’t accept the characterization of Hizballah as a terrorist organization. This is another reason why Lebanon makes a fitting target; it forces the Administration to show early in the war on terror that it is truly serious and won’t be intimidated by Arab opposition, and it puts pressure on the Arabs to choose whether they’re on our side or that of the terrorists.