Why Disarming Hezbollah Won't Be Easy

Key players are sending conflicting signals about a U.N. force in southern Lebanon. A presumed priority — disarming Hezbollah — now seems unlikely. Shibley Telhami, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, offers his insights to Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

We take a look now at the question of disarming Hezbollah. If you listened to news reports this week, you might have been a bit confused about whether Hezbollah will be disarmed and who will carry out that mission.

Here's what Hezbollah Lieutenant Sheikh Nabel Kawuk(ph) had to say on Wednesday.

Lt. SHEIKH NABEL KAWUK (Hezbollah): We welcome the Lebanese army and it is not the time to discuss disarming Hezbollah.

ELLIOTT: Lebanese officials seem to agree. Here's The World's Lisa Mullins talking with the Lebanese Minister for Social Affairs Nayla Moawad.

Ms. LISA MULLINS (The World): In terms of what the Lebanese forces can do, can they and will they actively disarm Hezbollah?

Ms. NAYLA MOAWAD (Minister for Social Affairs, Lebanon): For the first (unintelligible) they are not asked to disarm Hezbollah.

ELLIOTT: And on MORNING EDITION yesterday...

Mr. STEVE INSKEEP (MORNING EDITION Host): If the Lebanese army is not disarming Hezbollah, who's going to do it?

Mr. NICHOLAS BURNS (U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs): Well, there will be an international force of 15,000 men and women that will deploy alongside the Lebanese armed forces and their jobs will be to prevent the refortification of the border by Hezbollah, prevent the major rocket launchers from being stationed in southern Lebanon and thereby threatening Israel.

ELLIOTT: That was NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewing Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs.

At the same time, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was telling USA Today that there is no expectation that the UN force is going to physically disarm Hezbollah.

To clear this up, we turn to Shibley Talhami, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Professor Talhami, thank you for being with us.

Professor SHIBLEY TALHAMI (Brookings Institute): My pleasure.

ELLIOTT: Why is this question of disarming Hezbollah so complicated? Why does no one seem to want the responsibility for that?

Prof. TALHAMI: Well, you know, if you're in Israel, you can understand why you'd want to do it. They see it as a strategic threat and they went to the extent of saying this is an issue of survival.

Well, if you see it as almost an existential issue and you still cannot do it and you still aren't prepared to pay the price to do it, how will someone else who is not directly threatened by Hezbollah, whether it's a Frenchman or a Turk, is going to do it?

ELLIOTT: Now, it's clear that U.N. forces don't want to be responsible for disarming Hezbollah, but do you think they're willing to be deployed to southern Lebanon when Hezbollah is still considered an armed militia there?

Prof. TALHAMI: Initially the thought was that this would be a Chapter 7 force, a force that would be based on U.N. Chapter 7, which would have given this force the power to go to war or fight and disarm Hezbollah if necessary, if that's what the mandate was.

That was changed, and so people essentially looked at this deployment more as a fig leaf and as a concession than anything else, and now they're trying to come up with a mandate.

ELLIOTT: So disarming Hezbollah is not an official mandate of this ceasefire agreement, but a main premise was that Hezbollah could no longer operate as, quote, a state within a state. Does that not imply somehow that it can no longer be an armed force inside southern Lebanon?

Prof. TALHAMI: Clearly everyone agrees in the international community that only the Lebanese government should be allowed to use force. The question isn't the principle. The issue is how do you do it?

ELLIOTT: Do you think that Hezbollah would ever agree to hand over its weapons to the Lebanese army?

Prof. TALHAMI: I'm beginning to believe not. I've been watching every speech that Nasrallah gave throughout the crisis and his last speech was particularly fascinating, because he was really issuing a veiled threat - not so veiled threat to domestic opponents about even raising the question of disarming. They don't think the Lebanese government is ready to, quote, defend Lebanon, and so I do not believe that their intent is to disarm anytime soon.

ELLIOTT: Shibley Talhami is a University of Maryland political science professor and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Thank you for speaking with us.

Prof. TALHAMI: My pleasure.

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Correction Aug. 19, 2007

The audio for this story misnames the Brookings Institution.

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