The late Richard Holbrooke, special adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on Pakistan and Afghanistan, held the view that dialogue with Taliban should be the centerpiece of US strategy for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the transfer of power in Kabul.
Holbrooke, who died in 2010, was also an adviser in John Kerry’s campaign for the presidency in 2004.
Now, in 2014, the Obama administration appears to have taken his doctrine on board for Lebanon and Syria, by granting the Lebanese Hizballah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah the same status as Holbrooke advised for Taliban.
Hizballah has scored high in the Syrian war. Its military intervention on the side of Bashar Assad in the last year is credited with turning the Syrian army’s fortunes around from near defeat in 2013 to partial triumph in key areas of Syria this year.
Nasrallah now declares proudly that his movement’s commitment to the Syrian conflict is its central mission and will remain so until rebel and al Qaeda forces are finally vanquished.
What the Hizballah leader is trying to put across, in terms of the Holbrooke doctrine, is that just as dialogue with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad would have been pivotal to the future of Afghanistan, so too Hassan Nasrallah holds the key to resolving the Syrian civil war.
Washington believes Hizballah is tied hand and foot to Tehran
The Obama administration has bought this premise and seeks to apply it to broadening the rapidly progressing dialogue with Tehran to related areas.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s Washington sources, administration thinking goes like this:
Nasrallah may talk big but he is bound hand and foot to Tehran. He understands that if Iran decides it is time for him to go, it will happen;, and that his involvement in the Syrian war is equally dependent on the strategic decisions taken by Iran’s leaders. (He was a lot less confident in the winter of 2013 when Hizballah’s home bases were targeted by a string of lethal suicide bombings.)
Iran also determines which weapons are supplied to the Hizballah units fighting in Syria, in which sectors they fight and how to respond to his pleas for reinforcements.
In Washington’s view, Hizballah’s involvement in the Syrian war has increased its leader’s dependence on Tehran. Therefore, in contacts with US representatives, Nasrallah has little room for free maneuver. For every decision or move, he must first turn to Tehran for permission.
And if the Americans run into any problem with him, they can turn to Tehran who will fix it.
It is also believed in administration circles that the secret Saudi exchanges with Tehran (first revealed by DEBKA Weekly 627 from March 14) could lead to Riyadh eventually accepting Hizballah’s dominant influence in Syria and Lebanon.
Two meetings since the first rendezvous in February
In the view of our Middle East experts, this take on Hizballah is naïve and simplistic, and the way it is handled will not produce the desired result of bringing Tehran and Nasrallah around to positions that are to the American liking.
But that is the path which has been set out by President Obama, John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan. And so, the first secret rendezvous between US and Hizballah representatives took place in late February or early March when CIA officers met with Hizballah intelligence and security officials in Cyprus.
According to a number of Mid East intelligence sources, two such meetings have since been held and initial US-Hizballah understandings reached on the unfolding situations in Syria and Lebanon.
Our intelligence sources add that US Ambassador to Beirut David Hale has been active in preparing these meetings and implementing the understandings they reach.