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America's Next Target?

By Michael Freund
3/4/2005, 12:00 AM

Summer may still be a few months away in the Middle East, but for the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah, the heat is already here.

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Under mounting US and international pressure, Hizbullah’s patron Syria appears poised to end its occupation of Lebanon and withdraw its troops from the country before they hold parliamentary elections next month.

That will leave the notorious Shiite terror group, which was responsible for kidnapping Western hostages and killing hundreds of US Marines in the 1980s, exposed and increasingly vulnerable.

Not surprisingly, Hizbullah is now lashing out, thumping its chest with mock valor even as it retreats into a corner like hunted prey.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s terror master, launched a verbal broadside against the US, practically daring Washington to come on over and fight. Speaking at a memorial ceremony in Beirut for the late Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, Nasrallah had this to say:

We tell America and all those who want to disarm the resistance in Lebanon and the resistance in Palestine to safeguard Israel: This is forbidden. It is not possible.

The only option left for them [Americans] is that they come themselves to disarm the resistance and the [Palestinian refugee] camps in Lebanon.

I wish they would come, I wish they would come.

With its long and bloody history of anti-Western and anti-Israel terror attacks, as well as its destabilizing effect on the region’s security, there is little doubt that the Middle East would be far better off without Hizbullah and its lethal mischief. And that is precisely why Washington has begun to insist that Hizbullah disarm.

But since it appears unlikely that Nasrallah will do so voluntarily, and his rhetoric suggests that he is just itching for a fight, don’t be surprised if the coming months see an escalation.

Once Syria is out of Lebanon, that country’s entire internal political dynamic will change, and the US might feel more keen to step in and squash Hizbullah – thereby removing both a dangerous threat to Western interests as well as the last remaining obstacle to a free and democratic Lebanese regime.

Hizbullah is well aware of this, and might conclude that its only hope of justifying its continued existence is to draw Israel into an armed confrontation of some sort in an effort to rally the Arab world behind it.

The sooner Washington moves against Hizbullah, then, the better. And if Nasrallah truly wishes for the Americans to come, then by all means, why not send a couple of US Marine battalions to pay him a visit.

The world, and the region, would be much better off as a result.