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by Robert Locke


The "Cease Fire" Agreement

The UN's so-called "cease fire" is unlikely to bring a meaningful end to this war. It is less than 24 hours old as of this writing, but one cannot be optimistic about it holding. Thanks to its loopholes, the combatants don't even have to violate the letter of the resolution to break it.

The main loophole in the resolution for Israel is that she will have the right to reply to aggressive acts by Hezbollah.  Hezbollah's loophole is that it hasn't agreed to disarm, the resolution authorizes nobody to disarm it against its will, and the French have already promised they won't try. And if armed, Hezbollah will fight. And Israel will reply.  So, perhaps after a short honeymoon, there will be no peace.

Chapter 7 of the UN Charter would have given the peacekeeping force the right to use force to enforce the terms of the ceasefire. But these UNIFIL peacekeepers will be under Chapter 6 rules. They will only be able to observe, plead, and blame whichever side they think they can more easily pressure. Somehow, this force is said to be different, but no convincing explanation of how has emerged.

If the history of the Oslo Accords is any indicator, Hezbollah's infractions will be trivialized or given an optimistic interpretation. Any violation by Israel will be severely condemned by Kofi Annan's U.N., the worldwide media and eventually Israel's supporter, the United States, paralyzing Israel militarily and diplomatically. 

One thing will have changed: now, Israel will not be able to get at the terrorists, because her access will be obstructed by the peacekeepers.  One might almost imagine the whole thing a ploy, intended to produce precisely this result.   So why does the world fall for it?  Because the Middle East is the world capital of phony peace agreements, starting, of course, with the notorious "peace process" between Israel and the "Palestinians." As I wrote three years ago, [1]

"The core premise of the establishment is that there is a 'peace process' and that if only this process could be gotten right, peace would result. Unfortunately, this is bald nonsense, and it is only believed because it enables that establishment to stage a pantomime in which it is both the audience and the hero. The myth of the peace process enables it to go to sleep every night confident that they are on the side of justice, reconciliation between peoples, international understanding, anti-terrorism, fairness, and democracy."

The fundamental problem is this: peace is not a process. Either both sides are willing to strike a deal and stop fighting, or they are not. Spewing out paper deals and nominal arrangements means nothing. In fact, it tends to make things worse, by creating confusion about the bald fact that peace is when people aren't shooting at each other, and nothing else.

Therefore, little has really changed since two weeks ago.

An Unsolved Dilemma: how does a Sovereign State fight a real but undeclared terrorist sovereignty?

Reciprocity is the only basis international law has, given that there's no universally-accepted sovereign to judge and enforce, and the nations of the world differ wildly in the religious or ideological principles they would consider a legitimate basis for doing so. That's why the Geneva Convention[2], for example, is a convention: a treaty between sovereign states agreeing to reciprocally observe it. It only works because its signatories know that observing its rules (so long as their adversaries do) will not change the outcome of wars, but will reduce the suffering involved. It, and all the other worthy traditions of restraint in war, make no sense as unilateral obligations.

Hezbollah has violated the rules in a number of ways. For a start, it placed its military assets in locations surrounded by dense civilian populations, forcing Israel to incur collateral damage when attacking them. More fundamentally, the essence of Hezbollah's strategy, the very thing that has made it uniquely potent, has been to wage war without being a sovereign state. Every Arab state that has waged war on Israel has lost, and Hezbollah knows this.

And yet Hezbollah has not chosen to become a roving terrorist group. States have a key asset that Hezbollah craves: control of a territory, without which a would-be aggressor is at the mercy of whatever state controls the territory it must use. Hezbollah clearly wants to have the advantages of statehood without the liabilities, the key liability being that a state could be held accountable for its actions. It would have a capital that could be bombed, an economy and other physical assets it did not want destroyed, a civilian population whose appetite for military adventures by its rulers might have limits, relations with other sovereign states that could deny it trade and other privileges, and identifiable rulers who might be put on trial for war crimes.

States, in other words, have something for the victims of their aggression to grab onto. Hezbollah didn't want to get grabbed. So it cunningly declined to be a state.

Israel's response has indeed been greater than the attacks upon her. But the widespread demand[3] that her response be "proportionate" presumes an obligation that does not exist. A combatant only has moral standing to demand that his opponent play by Marquis of Queensbury rules if he does so himself, and Hezbollah has not. Hezbollah has learned from Mao Tse Tung: the civilian population is the water in which the guerilla fish must swim. Without civilians to hide among, they would be militarily naked.

That nations can be held responsible is the fundamental reason international law concedes to nation-states, but not terrorist groups, the right to wage war. Power without responsibility is inherently illegitimate. And practically speaking, confining the right to wage war to states does at least something to restrain war-making, and make sure the right people suffer when war does happen.

The latter point is key. Right now, Hezbollah is waging war from territory under the nominal sovereignty of another state, forcing Israel to wage war upon the entire people of this state in her defense. That a majority of the people of this state may sympathize with Hezbollah may be true, but it doesn't place them at war with Israel unless they actually start waging war. If they do start, that's another story.

Israel has been hoodwinked into fighting the wrong enemy: Lebanon

Lebanon bears some responsibility for allowing Hezbollah to wage its war from Lebanese soil, but this is only a half truth. The full truth is that in reality, Hezbollah is a sovereign in its own right, and it is waging war on Israel, not Lebanon. For more than 20 years, Hezbollah has been an Iranian-injected parasite into southern Lebanon; with resources from the outside and the masking support of the southern Lebanese, they have become a sovereignty in all but name.

In truth, Lebanon is not a real state. The Lebanese "state" is in reality only the fašade of a state, serving as an administrative convenience for a power-brokerage between rival warlord sovereignties sharing a common territory. It is not itself a real sovereign. More charitably, it may indeed be a real state, but only in those territories where the nominal government has real sovereignty. And this isn't true in the Hezbollah-controlled areas. This is not an eccentric assertion: even President Bush has referred[4] to Hezbollah as "a state within a state."

People forget sometimes what states are. They are political entities that possesses sovereignty. And they forget what sovereignty is: it isn't about pieces of paper, or whether foreigners recognize some entity as sovereign. Sovereignty is physical control: it is when an entity has an effective monopoly on organized political coercion on a certain territory. It is Hobbesian.


How to Contain Hezbollah

I propose a radical change in Israeli policy:

Israel should stop waging war on all of Lebanon. It should unilaterally declare that the Hezbollah-controlled areas constitute a state under the sovereignty of Hezbollah, invade these areas, and drive out the entire population until the attacks cease.

In essence, Israel should say to Hezbollah that if you act like a state, we will declare you a state and wage war on you like a state. If Israel did this, it would thereby stake the legitimacy of its actions upon the internationally-recognized right to wage war upon an attacking enemy state. Declaring war on the State of Hezbollah would enable the re-targeting of the Israeli war effort on the entity that is actually waging war on Israel. Blowing up apartment buildings in Beirut is of distinctly secondary value, if the government of Lebanon can't stop Hezbollah. It would also enable Israel to avoid alienating the whole of Lebanon, a nation that contains significant elements with a history of being friendly to Israel, which will matter in the long run.

Merely attacking the Hezbollah-controlled areas, without treating Hezbollah as a state, will not be enough. Israel has already done this, and it has not won the war. Unless I'm missing something, Israel can only stop the Hezbollah attacks in one of three ways:

  1. Bombing the entire Hezbollah-controlled area to the point of destroying every structure big enough to hold a rocket launcher. This would be both infeasible in scope, and of limited usefulness, given that Hezbollah can move its military assets elsewhere.

  2. Killing every human being in the area capable of operating a rocket launcher. This would be ethically monstrous.

  3. Driving Hezbollah and its supporting local population out of (all or part of) the territory Hezbollah controls.

This last option is the key. Depopulating Hezbollah's areas would deny the terrorists the cover they need. Depopulating the state of Hezbollah would give Israel the "something to grab onto" that Hezbollah has deliberately avoided having, in order to be immune to retaliation. It would now have lost something which it desperately wants: territory, and which Israel would have the power to deprive it of until it made peace. Israel should force out the population, and deny them the ability to return, as leverage to force a real end to the attacks -- at which point Israel should let the population back, so long as peace endures. 

Land for peace is the only formula that has ever successfully enabled Israel to tame her hostile neighbors.  Time to apply it again. Obviously, one cannot predict absolutely, whether Hezbollah might choose to give up its territory, rather than its attacks on Israel from this territory, but it would be a very strong piece of leverage nonetheless - the strongest Hezbollah has yet been subjected to. Particularly because it would coincide with the purely military value to Israel of creating a buffer zone against the majority of Hezbollah's rockets, which are short-range. The alternative may be prolonged butchery that does not end this war, so this may in fact be the most humane solution.  

End Notes


2.  Please note the analysis in this article is not about Geneva Convention obligations as such.

3.  As example:


Robert Locke resides in New York City. He may be contacted at, and his archive is at

This was submitted August 12, 2006.


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