On the Record

Keep Syria and Iran Out of Negotiations Over Lebanon

Martin S. Indyk

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BERNARD GWERTZMAN: Clearly the meeting in Rome on Wednesday did not achieve a ceasefire even though nobody really expected an immediate halt to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Where do you think the various actors have to go from here?

MARTIN S. INDYK: I think what Rome did achieve is a basic consensus on what elements would be necessary for a ceasefire package to be acceptable for the governments of Israel and Lebanon. And those elements, as expressed in the Rome communiqué, were: extension of the Lebanese government’s authority throughout Lebanon, which means the dispatch of the Lebanese army to the south backed by an effective international force; and a process for the implementation of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding and disarming of all militias in Lebanon. As [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan put it in the press conference: there can only be one gun and it should be in the hands of the government. I think those are the critical elements for a ceasefire, and the challenge now is to create the circumstances in which it then becomes implemented on the ground.

GWERTZMAN: I think a lot of people have speculated that because of Hezbollah’s close ties to both Syria and Iran, it is important to get those two countries involved as active players. Is the United States making a mistake in ignoring them directly?

INDYK: There’s no question Iran and Syria helped to light the fire that is now engulfing Lebanon and northern Israel, and if they want to be part of the solution, they could certainly help to douse the flames. But the question is: What is their price? If we were to ask Syria to help, that would be tantamount to an invitation to Syria to interfere again in Lebanon’s affairs. And that would be tantamount to a betrayal of the millions of Lebanese who came out into the streets of Beirut and insisted that Syria stop interfering in Lebanon’s affairs, that it takes its troops out of Lebanon. So talking is not the issue. The question is: What is the message to Syria? Is it is a message like [then Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger sent [then Syrian President] Hafez al-Assad in 1976, which was “Please intervene in Lebanon, it’s a civil war”? If we invite his son [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] to intervene to stop Hezbollah, then we are essentially handing Lebanon over again to Syrian control. I think that’s an unacceptable outcome. So the message, I think, to Syria and to Iran, which can be delivered by Kofi Annan, or Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, or anybody else who wants to take the message is: “Beware. If you don’t stop Hezbollah, then don’t be surprised if this conflict engulfs you.”

GWERTZMAN: Are you suggesting the United States might get involved militarily, or is this a threat from Israel?

INDYK: I don’t think it’s a threat. It just should be a warning. The idea that Syria or Iran should become the arbiters of Lebanon’s fate is basically to reward the arsonists by giving them control of the place where the fire’s burning. 

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Mr. Bernard Gwertzman is the Consulting Editor for cfr.org

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