Hezbollah is not just an enemy of Israel, it is an enemy of the United States. Before al Qaeda entered America’s consciousness, Hezbollah was our chief enemy among terrorist organizations. For more than 20 years, Hezbollah has been shedding the blood of Americans. In 1983, Hezbollah killed 241 Marines as they slept in their barracks in Beirut. Hezbollah is also believed to be responsible for the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which killed 19 members of the U.S. Air Force. Hezbollah has also kidnapped American diplomats and hijacked TWA flight 847 in 1985.
But Hezbollah does not act alone. It is now, and has always been, the murderous proxy of Iran. All of which makes the current conflict between Hezbollah and Israel of enormous significance in the War on Terror. Iran is to Hezbollah what Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was to al Qaeda. It is difficult to imagine eliminating the threat of terrorism from such murderous organizations without regime change in the countries that sponsor their acts. We understood this when we decided to invade Afghanistan after the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. Yet neither Israel nor the United States is ready to take on Iran directly, even as Iran moves closer to developing nuclear weapons.
In some ways, the violence occurring in Lebanon and Israel is a distraction from the larger problem of what to do about Iran. Hezbollah’s assault on Israel came at the very time that the United Nations Security Council, with the acquiescence of the United States, was trying to sweet-talk Iran out of pursuing its nuclear program. But despite significant incentives — including the possibility of lifting of U.S. sanctions against the sale of commercial aircraft, agricultural equipment and communications technology in place since Iran took Americans hostage in 1979 — Iran has balked at giving up its nuclear ambitions. This should tell us something: Carrots won’t work.
There are no easy answers to what to do about Iran. It has been a thorn in our side for almost 30 years, but with nuclear weapons it will be almost unimaginably worse. Does anyone doubt that Iran would use such weapons, directly or indirectly through its proxies such as Hezbollah? At the very least, these weapons could be used to blackmail Iran’s enemies, especially Israel. Iran has already supplied Hezbollah with hundreds of conventionally armed rockets that have showered down on Israeli cities over the last week. These weapons are far more sophisticated and deadly than those fired into Israel in the past.
One thing is clear: We should have no illusions that terrorist organizations can be defeated so long as their state sponsors go unpunished. Israel may be successful in dealing Hezbollah a major blow in Lebanon — though even that victory is by no means assured if the international community begins to exert pressure on Israel to stop its bombing before it has achieved its military objectives. But Iran, Syria and any other nations that fund, harbor and arm terrorists must be held accountable if we are to win the War on Terror.
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and now a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, has said it best: “Iran is our enemy. This is our war. Israel is doing our heavy-lifting.”
The United States should not only stand with Israel in this fight against our common enemy but should walk away from any deals with Iran that would allow them to pursue their nuclear program under any circumstances. We should have learned long ago that there is no negotiating with terrorists. The conflict in Lebanon may give us some breathing room to rethink our Iran strategy. As tragic as the deaths of innocent civilians may be in this war, they will not have died in vain if Iran can be stopped from building nuclear weapons.