Wednesday, June 30, 2010

CENTCOM thinks outside the box on Hamas & Hezbollah?

"b" (previously, of MoonOfAlabama) flagged this story for us at
FP/ here

While it is anathema to broach the subject of engaging militant groups like Hizballah* and Hamas in official Washington circles (to say nothing of Israel), that is exactly what a team of senior intelligence officers at U.S. Central Command -- CENTCOM -- has been doing. In a "Red Team" report issued on May 7 and entitled "Managing Hizballah and Hamas," senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams. While a Red Team exercise is deliberately designed to provide senior commanders with briefings and assumptions that challenge accepted strategies, the report is at once provocative, controversial -- and at odds with current U.S. policy.

Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Red Team's conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: "The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities -- the government of Lebanon and Fatah -- that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively" (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas "embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies," the two groups are "pragmatic and opportunistic."

The report opens with a quote from former U.S. peace negotiator Aaron David Miller's book, The Much Too Promised Land, which notes that both Hizballah and Hamas "have emerged as serious political players respected on the streets, in Arab capitals, and throughout the region. Destroying them was never really an option. Ignoring them may not be either." The report's writers are quick to acknowledge that the two militant groups "are vastly different," and that treating them together is a mistake. Nevertheless, the CENTCOM team directly repudiates Israel's publicly stated view -- that the two movements are incapable of change and must be confronted with force. The report says that "failing to recognize their separate grievances and objectives will result in continued failure in moderating their behavior."

"There is a lot of thinking going on in the military and particularly among intelligence officers in Tampa [the site of CENTCOM headquarters] about these groups," acknowledged a senior CENTCOM officer familiar with the report. However, he denied that senior military leaders are actively lobbying Barack Obama's administration to forge an opening to the two organizations. "That's probably not in the cards just yet," he said.

In the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that those on board the Mavi Marmara, the scene of the May 31 showdown between Israeli commandos and largely Turkish activists, had ties to "agents of international terror, international Islam, Hamas, al Qaeda and others." The same senior officer wasn't impressed. "Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid," he said. "I don't know any intelligence officer at CENTCOM who buys that." Another mid-level SOCOM [Special Operations Command] officer echoed these views: "As the U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism evolves, military planners have come to realize that they are all motivated by different factors, and we need to address this if we are going to effectively prosecute a successful campaign in the Middle East."

The most interesting aspects of the report deal with Hizbollah. The Red Team downplays the argument that the Lebanese Shiite group acts as a proxy for Iran. The report includes a quote from Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, stating that if Lebanon and Iran's interests ever conflicted, his organization would favor Lebanese interests. "Hizballah's activities increasingly reflect the movement's needs and aspirations in Lebanon, as opposed to the interests of its Iranian backers," the report concludes. It also criticizes Israel's August 2006 war against Hizballah as counterproductive. "Instead of exploiting Hizballah's independent streak ... Israeli actions in Lebanon may have had the reverse effect of tightening its bonds with Iran," the authors note.

The report goes on to say that, while there are "many ways in which Lebanese Hizballah is not like the IRA," there are "parallels" between the Irish Republican Army's eventual participation in the Northern Ireland peace process and a potentially productive U.S. strategy for dealing with Hizballah. CENTCOM officers cite a meeting between the British ambassador to Lebanon and Hizballah leaders in 2009 as providing an appropriate model to begin the integration of the organization into the LAF. Such talks should "be pursued again with the same vigor that peace talks in Northern Ireland were pursued," the report recommends. "As the US took the lead with peace talks in Northern Ireland, the British could take the lead with unity talks between the LAF and Hizballah in Lebanon."

(more/ here)


Anonymous said...

where does b post these days? I really miss his posts.

Anonymous said...

who is b?

Wiser Senior Founding Member of the FLC said...

while Centcom's paper is certainly a step forward in thinking, yet the issue is not really what to do about Hamas or Hezbollah. The issue is what to do about Israel, her refusal of acknowledging the full political rights of Palestinians especially the right of return. Any solution that does not accomodate the Palestinians in their more than justified grievances and claims will simply not do. Other Hamases or Hezbollahs will emerge. Has'nt anyone stopped to reflect on why this story has been going on for more than six decades? No one can ignore the Palestinian rights, the full rights and not what the Israeli may want to concede.

b said...

@Anonymous - nice to hear, but I am not posting anywhere now, just commenting.

A thought on the piece.

CENTCOM is now Israels primary enemy. It came up with a request to put Israel under its regional command. Petreus than testified that the Israel problem makes the U.S. position in the region very difficult. Then he ordered his staff to come up with the above analysis.

Now Petreus will come under fire from the Israel lobby. Silently first, but as worse things will get is in Afghanistan as more openly will they feed an anti-Petreus campaign.

They would never let him become a presidential candidate.

Anonymous said...

/Agree with the comments here and a lot of the analysis.

Certainly CENTCOM under Petraeus seemed a lot more pragmatic/less dogmatic. Hopefully this will continue under BG Allen who was Petraeus number 2 at CENTCOM and is widely tipped to get the position.

But in saying that I see little reason why Hezbollah would wish to merge with the LAF. It would likely complicate there funding since any backers would have to donate to the Lebanese Government.

Also it would complicate Hezbollah's secondary organisations like its poverty charities/construction companies. During the 2006 war Hezbollah was able to use these to rapidly rebuild houses and streets that were bombed and compensate civilians who lost possessions in the bombing. If they joined the LAF how would they be able to maintain these?

But the main drawback to joining the Lebanese Armed Forces would be they are not very effective/competent. Would Hezbollah be interested in handing over some of its Brigades to non-Hezbollah Generals?

Would a mobile military group like Hezbollah benefit from being part of a large more rigid military organisation like the LAF?

That is why I thought the whole SCUD story was bogus. What use would a guerilla force have with heavy SCUD missiles? You ever seen SCUD launchers like the MAZ-543 which Saddam used? Israeli spy satellites would see these huge truck sized launchers from miles away.


Anonymous said...

Frank Gaffney has already started in on Petreaus; asking, IS PETREAUS GOING NATIVE ?.

The business about putting Israel under CENTCOM's watch is interesting as the wargaming between US and them is a EUCOM project; at least, all of the considerable American assets deployed to protect Israel are to be run out of Germany. Did Petreaus want ultimate operational control over US military involvement with Israel? The notion that he "only" wanted to have sway over the Palestinians never made sense considering the larger dangers of regional chaos as a result of more Israeli agression.

As for the Red Team's thinking about engagement with Hamas (& Syria), there are advocates of that proposition among their Israeli counterparts. The Israelis who have reached that conclusion are from the highest ranks of those who have served in her military/security services.

I wish Mark Perry would pursue THAT avenue of inquiry as those Israeli veterans who hold such pragmatic povs about engagement with various enemies are "names" with unimpeachable credentials who have gone public.

Given the military-to-military relationships between US and Them, is it entirely beyond the pale to think that perhaps, there have been candid discussions among the parties?

Am I mistaken to think that there is some tactical & strategic cooperation between HA and the LAF? The spy roundups and statements of support from the LAF commander indicate solidarity and unity of purpose. Perhaps HA could join forces with the LAF by providing specialist "trainers" to the cadres...Although, I'm fairly certain that scenario wouldn't meet the Gen Keith Dayton standard.