by Alex Wilner

Last Friday the UN Security Council put in place a ceasefire in the conflict pitting Israel against Hezbollah. Canadians, generally fans of the UN, thankfully heaved a sigh of relief. But if we want to avoid a bad case of buyer’s remorse, like any wise consumer, Canadians should spend a moment poring over the fine print. 

Security Council resolutions by their very nature are vague at best and cravenly wishy-washy at worst.  Friday’s Resolution, UNSCR 1701, is no different.  It calls for “an end of violence” and emphasizes the “need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crises.” Great ideas, but pious wishes rarely disarm terrorist organizations.  

A practical UN action plan, for example, might identify those actors whose bad behaviour led to the current crisis, and lay out a reasoned and muscular plan to get them to change that behaviour. On this score, the Security Council has let us down. Badly.

Resolution 1701 calls on all UN Member States – none by name – to take measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons, supplies, finances, and other forms of support “to any entity” – read Hezbollah – in southern Lebanon.  However, by neither identifying nor condemning Hezbollah’s supporters, the Security Council has done two great disservices to the international struggle against terrorism. First it has ensured another round of bloody Middle East conflict, sooner rather than later. Second, it has given supporters and sponsors of terrorists everywhere comfort that they can count on escaping strong and international censure for the mayhem that they cause.

While Hezbollah may have made a few of the 4,000 mortars and Katyusha Rockets it fired into Israeli cities since July, all of the long-range Fajr rockets, sophisticated anti-ship cruise missiles, shoulder-launched SAMs, and unmanned aerial vehicles it aimed at Israel were produced and delivered by Iran, shipped with the connivance of Damascus through Syria. 

Moreover, neither Iran nor Syria suffered any damage for their past and present support of Hezbollah.  As Professor Barry Rubin, Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and acclaimed authority on Mideast affairs, points out, Hezbollah’s primary state-patrons were able to “engage in one of the biggest terrorism-sponsorship events in history, at no cost whatsoever.”  No Israeli retaliation touched Syrian or Iranian territory; no international sanctions were contemplated against the two regional pariahs. The only weapons aimed at Syria and Iran were barely wagging diplomatic fingers launched from places like Washington and Ottawa.

Already Western analysts report that Iran, exploiting and abusing the ceasefire, is rushing to rearm Hezbollah with the tools of terror destroyed or used in the war with Israel.  Neither the UN nor any other international body is expected to condemn or counter Hezbollah’s imminent rearmament. 

Unscathed will the sponsors go.  As Mr. Rubin concludes, “in the terrorism sponsorship business it doesn’t get any better than that.”

The lessons for sponsors of terrorist groups are strikingly clear.  Terrorism is easy to fund and equip, can be supported virtually in the open, and at a low material and diplomatic cost.  In short, terrorism pays.

Surely both Iran and Syria have come to such conclusions; others in this global war will too.  Israel understands this uncomfortable truth all too well, surrounded as it is by governments and movements who both reject its right to exist and call for its destruction. Perhaps Canada and its allies should also take notice, because so long as the benefits of using and supporting terrorism continue to outweigh the costs, little headway will be made in countering terrorism internationally, whatever form it takes.

Tragically this lesson will bear its ugly fruit in repetitions of terrorist attacks and attempted, foiled attacks that have become unacceptably common, such as those in Canada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, India, the United States, Israel, and most recently, over the skies of the Atlantic Ocean.  

So long as sponsors of terrorism enjoy a free ride, as Iran and Syria have this summer, the West will be joining the fray armed only with good intentions, while our opponents stock up on heavy armaments. 

All is not black. Some unified action has taken place to deter support for terrorism, and Canada has played an important role, especially with the continued counter-financing successes of The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) and with Ottawa’s decision to offer Toronto as a permanent host city to the Egmont Group, an international organization of over 100 of the world’s financial intelligence units. 

These are both important and evolving steps and will likely assist in reversing the threatening tide of global terrorism.  Yet these advances will remain muted, if the godfathers of terrorism – Iran and Syria in this case, others in the next – continue to receive such a timid and shallow response from the international community.

 Alex Wilner, a doctoral candidate at Dalhousie University, is the Intern in Security and Defence Policy at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a public policy think tank based in Halifax.